Crime and punishment are only a single strand of an intricately layered whodunit set in Fascist Naples.
Mastro Nicola Coviello, the hunchbacked goldsmith who was the last person to see professor Tullio Iovine del Castello at the city’s general hospital during a stifling summer night, tells Commissario Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi that he also saw a man sitting outside the office, a hulking figure who’s just the sort of person to have grabbed the chair of gynecology and tossed him out his office window. But his description does little to narrow the field of gigantic suspects ranging from Guido di Roccasole, the medical student Iovine failed three times on his qualifying exam to spite his dying father, an old rival, to Guiseppe "Peppino the Wolf" Graziani, a low-level criminal whose wife died in childbirth while Iovine was out of the hospital. Even Ricciardi’s own right-hand man, Brigadier Raffaele Maione, who’s consumed with fear that his wife, Lucia, has begun an affair with philandering lawyer Ferdinando Pianese, fits the physical type Ricciardi is seeking. Instead of focusing on Coviello’s description, however, the Commissario attends more closely to Iovine’s dying thoughts of someone called Sisinella. In each of his previous cases, Ricciardi’s been mysteriously privy to the victim’s last thoughts, which this time will connect the killer’s motive to Ricciardi’s preoccupation with his old governess Rosa Vaglio’s impending death and his inability to confess his love for schoolteacher Enrica Colombo—though not at all in the way he expects.
De Giovanni (The Crocodile, 2013, etc.) takes so much time to evoke Ricciardi’s Naples that you’d think he was laying the foundation of the world. But it all pays off in a richly textured story whose murder is nothing more than the point of entry.