Jennifer Palmer has read crime fiction since her teenage years & enjoys reviewing within the many sub-genres that now exist; as a historian who lectures on real life historical mysteries she particularly appreciates historical cime fiction.
Commissario Soneri discovers the dead body of the elderly Ghitta Tagliavin, in her apartment. As his investigation progresses, he uncovers both a corruption scandal amongst the political movers and shakers in Parma, and a depressing revelation that makes him reflect upon the memories of his own dead wife, and the context of his own past.
As the Commissario investigates the murder of the elderly lady; he discovers that she ran a student guesthouse in the old city centre of Parma; the same guest house that he had met his late wife; and a place that now holds painful memories of days now past. Commissario Soneri is a lone wolf investigator who knew the city well, but now sees that the place has changed considerably. The boarding house’s location has now become a rather seedy place. Though resonating with the sounds and smells of modern life, it has become poor and rundown, with a large number of migrants living all around this low rent neighbourhood.
The background to Parma is lightly sketched, in the run up to the Christmas season, with the Commissario roaming around the streets, looking for clues, pondering motive, and haunted by his memories of the area.
Like many police investigators, Soneri is inflicted with personal problems that are exacerbated, when he begins to contemplate the dark undercurrents and thoughts of his late wife. There are other unpleasant memories related to the politics of Italy’s past involving corruption, which now seem to be related to Ghitta's death.
The Commissario persists in his efforts to unravel the mystery, during which we learn a great deal about him, and the disappointments of his own life through the way he deals with the witnesses and informants he encounters. The book’s title hints at the life of Ghitta Tagliavin, and the perplexing circumstances of her demise and her sercets. The investigation is also striated with the changing face of Parma, as well as the darkness that lies below the surface of any poor neighbourhood in Europe.
I must warn you, Varesi’s tale contains no lighter side, as there is a sadness that pervades the narrative, which in turn is populated with an array of bizarre characters which makes the Commissario’s meandering investigation around Parma, strangely addictive, and thought provoking when considering the sadness in the lives of others.
Translated from the Italian by Joseph Farrell