1930s, Milan, and a roadsweeper makes an unnerving discovery – a parcel on the doorstep of a church with a message saying that it should be handed into the police. When opening it, Inspector De Vincenzi finds a doctor’s white coat and four surgical instruments. A woman calls the station asking to speak to the inspector but rings off before speaking. And De Vincenzi is called to a local bookshop…
Inside is the body of Professor Magni, physician, surgeon and owner of two bullet-holes in the back of the head. Thus begins De Vincenzi’s investigation into a web of lies and half-truths in his quest to find a ruthless killer…
Augusto de Angelis wrote a number of mystery novels in his native Italy before the war, but Inspector De Vincenzi is his most popular creation. There is a fascinating introduction written by the author’s grandson that paints a fascinating picture of pre-war Italy and his grandfather’s role in it.
The novel itself is an interesting affair – I’ve always had something of a problem with translations of foreign literature losing something in English, and there are flashes of that problem here. There are turns of phrase in the original language that do not always translate which some translators insist on translating literally. There aren’t too many examples of that here – referring to a female character as “Miss Pat” is the most obvious, as that’s not how any policeman would address a witness/suspect in English – so generally the translator has done a good job. Sorry for not crediting the translator, by the way, but I can’t seem to find out who it was.
It is a little slow and talkie originally, with an introspective lead detective, but it is an interesting set of suspects, none of whom want to tell the truth and need it prised out of them by De Vincenzi’s thoughtful logic. It’s like a game of cat and mice with not just the murderer covering up their crimes but everyone has a secret of some description.
Admittedly, there is one aspect of the plot that annoyed the pants off me – it’s the bit described in the final section – but overall, this is an interesting title, showing how it wasn’t just the UK and US producing classic crime fiction in the Golden Age. Definitely worth the time of the fan of contemplative crime fiction.
Death In A Bookstore is out now from Kazabo Publishing.