Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Death in Sardinia, by Marco Vichi

Hodder and Stoughton, 2012
originally published as Il Nuovo Venuto, 2004
translated by Stephen Sartarelli
454 pp

paper, UK
american edition: 2014, Pegasus books

"A policeman must do his duty to the best of his ability ... But above anything else, he must be ... fair ..." 

Just when I thought I'd had it with Inspector Bordelli and his long-winded war reveries, and flirtations with giving up smoking,  along comes Death in Sardinia to change my mind.  This book is much more on task than the previous two, enough so that I've already preordered Vichi's  Death in Florence, which I should get in November some time. 

It's 1965, Christmas is fast approaching, and Bordelli is called out to investigate the death of a notorious loan shark named Badalamenti,  who has ended up with a pair of scissors deep in his neck.  Bordelli had once tried to investigate Badalamenti, but was denied;  now that he's dead, the inspector has full access.  The coroner performing the autopsy pulls an engraved ring out of the dead man's stomach, and he lets Bordelli know a bit of information about the killer to help Bordelli narrow down his search.  Going through the loan shark's apartment, Bordelli stumbles upon a hidden space filled with promissory notes, compromising photos of a woman, and a collection of wedding rings. He also finds pictures of a young girl, with the name "Marisa" on the back.   Going through all of the names on the notes, and looking at the photos,  Bordelli decides that Badalamenti's murderer must be among them, and sets about returning the notes to Badalamenti's customers while sizing up each one as to whether or not he is the killer. In the meantime, his trusty sidekick Piras has gone home to Sardinia to recuperate after being shot while in the line of duty; while there, a family friend shoots himself, causing no end of grief for friends and family, but Piras realizes that something's not right -- and after the funeral it dawns on him: where was the shell from the shot?  Both men have their hands full trying to sort things out. 

Death in Sardinia tackles not only these crimes, but also gets more fully into Bordelli's character.  He realizes that he's not getting any younger, and waxes about aging; he also realizes that although the war that is always on his mind has been over now for two decades, it may be time for him to "stop looking at the world through its prism." Besides, in this day and age, the new generation of young people 

"could no longer bear hearing the older people's complaints about the war and having to queue up for bread.  The tears to be cried had already been shed. Now it was time to start living again, and having fun. Maybe they were right." 

More importantly, Bordelli comes to realize that the letter of the law doesn't cover every situation, and that he must apply principles of fairness and understanding while on the track of justice.

This book moved much more quickly than its two predecessors, and there was more of a clear path from crime to investigation to solution than in the earlier novels.  Although there was still the war reminiscing and memories to fill the pages, and although there was quite a bit that could have been taken out to move the book along and make it much tighter, it really is the best of the series so far. As in his other two novels, past and present meaningfully intersect in this story, here maybe more so, a quality I actually like in these books.  And while there's a good mystery here, it's not so edgy or gritty,  so it's perfect for those who enjoy lighter crime fare.

crime fiction from Italy


  1. Nancy: Oy, whenever I come here, I have to add more books to my humongous TBR list. If I live to be 120, I'll never get through it.

    I normally don't like to read about WWII (The Collini Case, being the exception, well worth the discomfort, but shocking nevertheless), however, this book sounds like the character has moved on.

    I'm still stymied about how a police officer can be a decent person under a fascist regime.

    1. It's the 60s, and he's definitely anti Fascist. But I take your point! I have a wish list like that, too!!

  2. Hi Nancy,

    Checked at my library system, and it has Death in August and Death in the Olive Grove. Death in Sardinia sounds better by your description, but which of the other ones do you think is better?

    1. Oh, that's a toughie. If I have to pick, I'd go with the Olive Grove, but maybe you'd get an idea of the character better with the other one.


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