Winter Swallows by Maurizio de Giovanni

For lovers of murder mysteries and literary fiction alike, this atmospheric tale, elegantly written and set in 1930s Naples will satisfy the most discerning reader.

Winter Swallows by Maurizio de Giovanni, translated by Antony Shugaar
Europa Editions
Paperback | $18
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If you haven’t tried any of de Giovanni’s Commissario Ricciardi mysteries you really should. Haunted by an affliction that enables him to hear the dead speaking Ricciardi is an extraordinarily sensitive detective. Because his mother suffered the same malady and died in an asylum, he is hesitant to reveal this ability: he is sure it is a disease of the mind and that he could potentially pass it on to any progeny he may have. Because of this he agonizes over the woman who lives across the street from his apartment whom he desperately loves but cannot bring himself to enlighten on the issue. He is convinced that if she knew of the curse she would have nothing to do with him and furthermore if they were to join in matrimony the risk to their children would be untenable. So they gaze at each other from their respective windows and share longing looks, unrequited passion languishing until it is nearly unbearable. Finally he finds courage to approach her and declare his love and they begin to meet secretly in an unfrequented passage where they tentatively begin courting. It is a deeply sad, bitterly sweet and tortured love affair. All this laid atop the melancholy landscape of 1930s Naples with the fascist government hovering over the lives of everyone.


All the while this dilemma dogs the detective he is investigating the murder of a famous actress on stage by her veteran actor husband before an audience. Following a script enacted three times a night, she plays an unfaithful wife who is shot by her cuckolded man. Each night, he takes a pistol in hand, points it and fires: each night, she falls and performs a dramatic death scene. Except upon one occasion there is a live round in the weapon and she slumps to the stage floor, blood gushing from the wound to die in agony. It is clear the husband has fired the shot. It has been witnessed by a theater full of people and all the performers on stage. Sensing that the obvious conclusion is not what it seems, Ricciardi begins to delve into the lives, loves and hates of all the dancers, actors and musicians as well as the backstage hands, theater owner and other functionaries. The two story lines, painful unrequited love and murder most foul intertwine in this sad sweet tale deftly written and beautifully translated by Antony Shugaar. It is a fascinating mystery that is literary as well as thrilling.