We meet Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi in Naples in 1931. He is as old as the century, unmarried, almost friendless, a policeman. Though he is independently wealthy enough not to have to work for the money he has a different motivation: he sees, and hears, dead people. The ghosts of those who have died sorrowfully haunt him and his only relief seems to be the brief period following a successful investigation, when the voices leave Ricciardi alone for a time.
After an odd introduction containing more supernatural elements than I’m normally interested in, the book settles down into a fairly standard procedural in which Ricciardi and his faithful subordinate, an older man who grew to respect then love Ricciardi when he investigated the death of his son, investigate the murder of Arnaldo Vezzi, one of Italy’s greatest opera singers, who has been stabbed in his dressing room on the opening night of a new season. The case soon throws up a plethora of suspects as virtually everyone hated the cruel arrogant singer and Ricciardi must piece together the evidence through careful listening and observation of everyone involved. Ultimately the case is resolved intelligently and happily, for this reader anyway, without much impact from the ghostly contingent in the book.
Although a bit wary at first (I am seriously turned off by the supernatural) I did enjoy this story and its intense, sorrow-filled protagonist. Ricciardi falls into the ‘nearly perfect in every way and a hundred times smarter than everyone around him’ category of detective but there’s not a drop of arrogance in him so he’s rather likeable. And even though I don’t believe in things ghostly I certainly believed that Ricciardi was haunted by them and couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. In effect he is constantly surrounded by the sorrow of others and he feels a compulsive obligation to do something about it which clearly does not make for a restful life. His one glimmer of hope is his nightly observations of a young woman who lives in an apartment he can see from his own home and this element of the book is surprisingly touching.
Like all the Italian crime fiction I’ve read the female characters leave a bit to be desired, being either mother-figures or temptresses of some sort, but the minor male characters are all nicely drawn. There’s a priest who is tangentially involved in the case and he grows to care for Ricciardi and their relationship has the potential to prove quite interesting if it is developed in further books.
The setting here is a highlight both in terms of the small but authentic details of the city, its opera theatre and its various neighbourhoods and the historical backdrop. Italy in the 30’s was a time of some political turmoil (though really when wasn’t Italy in a period of some political turmoil) and this is captured in an understated way with familial arguments and the harsher political realities of Ricciardi’s workplace. I’m fairly sure this element of the book in particular is due as much to the skills of its translator as its author, and this seems to be borne out by an informative afterword from the translator herself.
I’m not entirely convinced this character has the makings of a long-running series, as I suspect the very things that would allow the Ricciardi to develop as a human being are the things which would make him more like the rest of us and therefore less interesting to read about. But I would certainly be curious enough to read another book in the series.
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My rating 3.5/5
Translator Anne Milano Appel
Publisher Hersilla Press 
Length 2855 locations!
Format eBook (kindle)
Book Series #1(?) in the Commissario Ricciardi series
Source I bought it
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