Despite the title, Inspector Franco Bordelli’s third adventure to reach these shores (Death and the Olive Grove, 2013, etc.) adds a mysterious murder in Bordelli’s home base of Florence to the eponymous death.
Sgt. Oreste Baragli, who at 60-plus is barely older than Bordelli, is dying of stomach cancer and probably won’t live to see 1966. In between visits to his old friend and colleague, Bordelli must investigate the fatal stabbing of Totuccio Badalamenti, a loan shark who doubled as a blackmailer. Using the evidence he’s found in searching the dead man’s home, Bordelli makes the rounds of Badalamenti’s victims. None of them can say a good word about him, and they’re glad he’s dead, but they calmly (in the case of several younger suspects, contemptuously) deny having killed him. And since, unlike the murderer, they’re all right-handed, Bordelli faces stalemate. Meanwhile, his sidekick, Pietrino Piras, recovering off in his native Sardinia from the wounds he sustained in a shootout, encounters a case of his own: the shooting of shepherd Benigno Staffa, the cousin of a Piras family neighbor. Although Benigno seems to have shot himself, the absence of a shell from his automatic and the clouds surrounding his plan to sell a parcel of land to wealthy developer Agostino Pintus hint at murder. The solutions to both cases are pretty obvious, even to Bordelli and Piras, but they’re kept at bay for several hundred pages by card games with Baragli, preparations for Christmas and flashbacks to the characters’ memories of World War II. Though some of these latter are compelling, most readers will be sated long before the end.
Bordelli and his vast and varied criminal acquaintance remain as appealing as ever, but this world-weary elegy is one slow-moving train.