Blood Curse: Maurizio de Giovanni

This is one of the best books I have read this year.

In the second book in this series subtitled The Springtime of Commissario Ricciardi we are back in Naples in 1931.

An elderly woman Carmela Calise has been brutally beaten to death and because she was both a fortune teller and moneylender there are several suspects. They  range from a wealthy woman who relies on Calise to tell her the future, to a struggling pizzeria owner with a promissory note due in a few days. Ricciardi and Brigadier Maione investigate this crime while Maione also comforts Filomena Russo the most beautiful woman in Naples, whose face has been disfigured by a knife. Both detectives have personal problems Maione and his wife,Lucia, have suffered a great tragedy that has driven them apart, and Ricciardi is still unable to approach the graceful Enrica. These two carry on a silent romance by staring at each other through their windows at night. There are very few authors who can  successfully introduce the supernatural into crime fiction, Asa Larsson springs to mind, and De Giovanni joins that exclusive group, simply because he does not overdo it or dwell on it too much. 

The humid evening embraced Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi, Commissario of Public Safety in the Mobile Squad of the Regia Questura, or the Royal Police Headquarters, of Naples. The man who saw the dead.

Blood Curse is a tangled story of jealousy, love, money, tragedy and lust with well drawn characters in an unusual historical setting. It is beautifully written and full of a sort of earthy wisdom.

Usury is vile, Ricciardi thought to himself: one of the most despicable crimes, because it takes trust and turns it against those that give it. And it sucks away work, hope, opportunities; it sucks away the future. 

In Fascist Italy it is natural that Ricciardi’s boss Angelo Garzo will be a political animal and the author sums him up in a few words. Of course Ricciardi is not a fascist but a good man in a difficult environment.

he also suspected that the thick-headed bureaucrat would miss the point, ignorant as Garzo was of any aspect of the policeman’s profession that couldn’t be performed from the comfort of a desk.

This is one of the best books I have read this year. The reader is given social commentary about the divisions between the wealthy and the deprived in Naples, details about the lives of the detectives, all blended in with a dreadful crime, a few red herrings and some surprises. But there is also importantly some humour that gives a very Italian feel to the story. I hope Blood Curse makes it onto the short list for the CWA International Dagger.

Had she smelled only a woman’s scent, she might have understood. A man has his needs and she’d been distant from him for years now.

But eating at another woman’s table? Not that. That was true betrayal.