Review: By My Hand: A Commissario Ricciardi Mystery by Maurizio de Giovanni, Translated by Antony Shugaar
Maurizio de Giovanni’s By My Hand is the fifth installment in the best-selling Italian author’s Commissario Ricciardi Mystery series. In the novel, Commissario Ricciardi and his partner, Brigadier Raffaele Maione, investigate the murder of a Fascist militia officer, Signore Garofalo, and Garofalo’s wife—a murder that has left a young girl orphaned and to be raised by her aunt, a nun. As the story unfolds, attempts to understand why someone would wish to murder Garofalo just weeks before Christmas reveal how unpopular the officer’s corruption has made him and how many people would have liked to see him dead. This leads to confusion as multiple suspects without solid alibis confess to having had the motive to kill the Garofalos, but deny having committed the act.
Although Commissario Ricciardi is in many ways a character typical of the genre, with his enigmatic aura and limited interpersonal relationships, he is not simply another stock detective character, but rich and complex. The reader is provided access to Ricciardi’s interior and private life, which reveals his tender humanity, as well as an explanation for his social withdrawal: his entanglement in two worlds, that of the living and that of the dead. Ricciardi is haunted by visions of the dead repeating their final moment on earth, alienating him from the living. However, unlike most detective characters, Ricciardi is not cynical and cannot help but feel compassion for and connect with his fellow man, something that becomes clear as he interacts with those that have been wronged by Garofalo and are now living lives of misery and poverty as a result. However, when the identity of the murderer is finally revealed, most readers will be surprised.
Considering the unpleasant character of the murdered officer, the crime is not the most mysterious occurrence in the novel. Perhaps even more mysterious is a question involving Ricciardi’s love life and the disappearance of his neighbor, Enrica, from it. The two had long shared a bond from a distance, despite the persistence of a wealthy woman from Rome in pursuing Ricciardi. However, prior to the beginning of the novel, Enrica begins avoiding Ricciardo after he is involved in an accident, just when a meeting between the two had seemed imminent.
The reader will also find herself in suspense when a figure from Maione’s past appears to inform him that his son’s killer has not in fact been imprisoned, as he had believed. It turns out that the imprisoned man was covering for his younger brother, who is the real culprit and who still roams free. Maione hunts him down, but seeing the young man’s current wholesome life as a father and the resemblance to Maione’s own deceased son confuses Maione, a man who usually views the world in simple terms of right and wrong. A lack of evidence and inability to have the man convicted force Maoine to take justice into his own hands—but first he will have to find out what exactly constitutes justice.
Along with the intrigue produced by the novel’s several mysteries, the setting of the book is also one of its strengths. Maurizio de Giovanni lives and works in Naples, so it should come as no surprise that By My Hand provides a strong sense of the region. The story reveals a city in conflict—rich against poor—and paints an interesting portrait of the tumultuous political landscape of Fascist Naples in the 1930s, which appears orderly and prosperous on the surface thanks to the imposition of the Fascist regime. Another strength of the novel is the manner in which it entertains and educates the reader with Christmas traditions of Naples, including zampognari (bagpipe players) and manger scenes. These seasonal details not only provide a festive backdrop for the plot, but are also involved in solving the mystery of the murder due to the fact that a broken figure of San Giuseppe was found near the bodies. The figure came from the family’s manger scene—perhaps the most important Christmas tradition of Naples. Thanks to this detail, the reader is introduced to the elaborate symbolism and multiplicities of meaning contained in the manger scene.
The novel will appeal to a variety of readers—including those interested in mystery, history, and Italy—while the Christmastime setting of the novel makes it an ideal read for the holiday season.
For more information, please visit Europa’s website.
By My Hand: A Commissario Ricciardi Mystery
Maurizio de Giovanni, translated by Antony Shugaar
Posted: Nov 19, 2014
Category: Akashic in Good Company | Tags: Akashic in Good Company, Europa Editions, Review, Europa, Maurizio de Giovanni, Antony Shugaar, By My Hand, Juliet Simon, A Commissario Ricciardi Mystery, By My Hand: A Commissario Ricciardi Mystery
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