Book review: "Blood Curse: The Springtime of Commissario Ricciardi," by Maurizio De Giovanni

"Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror"

-- Rainer Maria Rilke

"The more I work with the dead, the less I understand the living"

-- Maurizio De Giovanni, "Blood Curse"

We join Commissario Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi and his world of intriguing characters in their third outing - "Blood Curse: The Springtime of Commissario Ricciardi" by Neapolitan native Maurizio De Giovanni. This time around, the duo are investigating the brutal murder of an elderly woman -- Carmela Calise, a discreetly famous Tarot-card reader, and equally discreet, and lesser-known loan shark. The shadowy nature of the victim's life and her ability to conduct her business outside the law throw open an entire spectrum of suspects - from commoners who dare to dream and hope, putting their very lives on the line for a better life, to the society elite seeking answers that more conventional wisdom fails to provide. Complicating the investigation is the possibility that among the list of the woman's impressive list of clientele are names of politically connected families who would be very willing to manipulate the investigation, and any media spotlight, away from their homes.

The first point of difference between this novel and its predecessor, is the style of writing. For the first time, the changing season (Spring) is itself a protagonist, an impish soul dancing its way into the city and the lives of its denizens. Giovanni deftly portrays a city awakening to the light touch of rebirth after a particularly hard winter. Here is an author who is definitely in love with his city, and he describes the intimate changes brought on by the new season -- as witnessed by a darkened vicoli, a gritty neighborhood, an opulent apartment, a street vendor, a socialite or a poor worker -- with a surprising delicacy. Having a new translator (Antony Shugaar) from the first book in the series also enables this contrast in the flow of the narrative. A slightly confusing aspect of the new style is the abrupt switch in the point-of-view characters, that one may say, adds to the mystery of the events, but by the time we are halfway into the 340-odd pages, the reader already feels at home in the new decor.

Giovanni returns to the theme of "hunger and love" in this book as well - though not as explicitly as in the previous outing. In this novel, we find characters "hungry" for power (Deputy Chief Garzo), recognition (Attilio), normality (Filomena), redemption (Ruggero Arpaja), romance (Enrica/Emma), human connection (Brigadier Maione and Filomena), or meaning (Doctor Modo). In one of the most moving dialogues in the novel, Giovanni explores the futility of defining "death" - as a fixed point versus an ongoing continuum - through the eyes of Doctor Modo and Commissario Ricciardi, two individuals who in their own way, come face to face with it most of their lives. On the other side, we see Love - from its splendor, its innocence, as well as a cool, calculating demeanor, to a twisted form that arises from the darkness within our subconscious. This is crime-noir elevated to a form that transcends the genre!

Very highly recommended!