A first novel which exchanges whimsy for simplicity and achieves a straight-forward picture of an Italian village and its local dignitary, the old man, Cornullo. He has twice been pronounced dead and both times malevolently arises to mock the priest who would give the last rites and the doctor who has announced his end. His escapes bring him the reputation of being in league with the devil among the superstitious villagers, who respect his reputed wealth and his past glories as a brigand hero. These same escapes spur others to speed him on his way -- one with poisoned wine, another with an adder, a third with a hypodermic needle, and yet another with psychological pressures. But all are thwarted and the old man dies his own, slow, dignified death and in his own time repents and admits, at last, that he is penniless- a last laugh for his family and the townspeople. Some will find this a bit mystical and homespun but there will be those who will find its naturalness in plot and character appealing and refreshing.