Italy, the Dornier-Wal 134 seaplane, flying from Rome to Palermo. Everyone saw the distinguished banker Francesco Agliati lock himself into the small bathroom. On landing, the passengers realise that he had been in there for at least half an hour and the door is broken down. Despite the door being in sight of several witnesses for the whole flight, Agliati has vanished. The only possible exit was a skylight, but that was too narrow for the somewhat rotund gentleman to fit through, so where has he gone? And is he still alive?
Enter Vice Questore Luigi Renzi of the Rome Police and Giorgio Vallesi, a journalist, as they attempt to get to the bottom of a conspiracy and an impossible disappearance.
Written in 1935 and, as it was written in Italian, translated for the first time by Igor Longo and published by Locked Room International this year, this is the first Italian Golden Age mystery that I’ve read. There’s a very interesting article from Igor at the back of the book on the locked room mystery in Italian literature – well worth reading – it seems there are some other titles with potential. It’s also worth pointing out the quality of the translation – Igor has done a very good job here.
It’s an interesting book, switching tone from classic locked room to crime conspiracy and then back again. It’s hard to structure a book around a disappearance when the investigator doesn’t know if they are looking at a murder or not, but the author mostly succeeds here. I found some of the male suspects less distinctive than was ideal, flicking back to the dramatis personae on more than one occasion, but the plot moves forward quickly, at its best when it is focussing on the disappearance, although the first confirmed murder, almost the opposite of the disappearance in its subtlety, is intriguing as well.
The disappearance is clever enough – there are only so many ways to do a disappearance, and certain elements tend to repeat themselves in such plots, but there is enough new here to make the solution distinctive.
Another important translation from Locked Room International, definitely worth a look.