Alessandro Perissinotto not only writes a mean detective novel, but in the process captures the spirit, suffering and poverty of post-war Italy (second world war that is). The hero of the piece is a man in his forties, Adelmo Baudino, who immediately after the war was dismissed from his job on the railways because he was suspected of having collaborated with the Fascists. He had been rising through the ranks in the railways and was doing well in life, but the Committee’s determination of guilt left him destitute, living with his mother in a partly bombed out building in Turin, surviving on whatever few lire he earned at the new menial job he had found.
Perissinotto writes so convincingly about the penury of post-war life in the defeated and smashed country that the reader can almost taste the thin, watery liquid that passes for soup and feel the biting wind that tears through the old, threadbare clothes some people have to wear.
When the action switches to Naples the reader’s senses are further assaulted by the colours, smells and violence of the slums. The narrow streets and subterranean passages are skilfully used to create an atmosphere of menace and hopelessness which are the true under belly of Neapolitan society in spite of the impression of vigour, glory and general well-being that come from the descriptions of the fruit, vegetables and fish in the markets.
The reason for the move to Naples is that Baudino has allowed himself to be caught up in the search for a murderer. It comes to his attention that three railway workers, one who he knew, have been recently killed in a short space of time, each in the same gruesome manner. No-one seems to be very interested, and each murder seems to be being treated by the police as unrelated to the others in spite of the glaringly obvious similarities.
Baudino’s hope is that if he solves the murders it will go some way to rehabilitate him in the eyes of society, but in particularly in the eyes of the railway company who would then reinstate him in his former employment. Along the way however Baudino is lead further into the louche murkiness of Italian society, beguiling on the surface but treacherous when you scratch that pretty facade. Loyalties to the discredited Fascist regime continue to survive the blows recently inflicted by the Allies, and Baudino soon learns that friendship counts for little. He is alone, the typical dark hero surviving by his wits and trusting no-one, as he uncovers the repugnant truth of what has gone on behind walls of silence and respectability.
Perissinotto’s comments on post-war Italy are enlightening but don’t get in the way of the plot. The action is fast-paced, a real page-turner, and he sketches a believable character in Baudino.