A dozen grim vignettes show the brutish side of Italian life, culled from newspaper crime reports and turned into the caseload of sharp-witted but gentle police commissioner Adele Sofia by award-winning feminist writer Maraini. The first involves a boy abducted, raped, and strangled by a stranger who lured him from his house by making himself seem like a pigeon in the boy’s mind; later, the killer turns out to be a social worker already involved in the murder investigation. A mentally challenged girl entrusted to a clinic by her last living relative, her ailing grandfather, is dead within months; the investigation reveals that two male clinic workers repeatedly raped her at bath time, then kept her sedated until she died, while the pompous head of the clinic and a harried co-worker suspected nothing. An 11-year-old boy reports his father for rape, but an investigation proves inconclusive; three years later the boy’s little brother is dead and fingers are being pointed at both the boy and his father. The feuding family’s conflicting testimony confuses everyone, and only Commissioner Sofia keeps her wits about her, aided by sacks of her favorite licorice drops. Finally, a young woman is tortured and murdered while on a trip to see the pope, and a female reporter gets on the case with such a vengeance that she discovers clues that lead to the arrest of a well-spoken, mild-mannered professional with a theory that there’s a little of the murderer in everyone.
Simple, sobering riffs of whodunit stuff, with cumulative accents on the downbeat.