Now, in the light of these new events, the commissario came back to this idea with some concern: both because he’d seen with lucid clarity who had killed the Duchess of Camparino and because he was no doubt infected with the same disease that had triggered the murder: jealousy. Let’s call a spade a spade, he thought, as he brushed past a beggar’s extended hand. I’ve encountered a new perversion, yet another corruption of love that leads to death and to murder. And now that I’ve encountered it myself, I can clearly recognize it.
Everyone In Their Place is nearly twice as long as I Will Have Vengeance, the first book in Maurizio de Giovanni’s Commissario Ricciardi series. I don’t think it would be quite fair to say it’s also nearly twice as good, because I thought I Will Have Vengeance was already very good. The extra length, though, allows de Giovanni to develop more layers, in both his story and his characters, and the result is intensely satisfying both as a mystery and as a novel. Something I particularly admired, in fact, is how well the murder plot is interwoven with the novel’s other elements, particularly Ricciardi’s own struggles to find his place in the world.
As I explained in my previous post, Ricciardi has “visions”: he sees people in the moment of their death, which is valuable for his work as a detective but, because he sees these suffering figments everywhere he goes, takes an enormous psychic toll on him. More than the first book, Everyone In Their Place (which is the third one) emphasizes the social consequences of the commissario’s curse. He’s a profoundly lonely man, largely by choice: he is wary of forming bonds because everywhere he looks he sees the worst results of strong feelings: “in the churning maelstrom of love, passion, wealth, and poverty, envy and jealousy sprang up like weeds — and with them, murder.” He also can’t imagine inviting anyone he loves to share the reality of his world as he experiences it. As far as the beautiful, assertive Livia goes, this caution seems reasonable: though her pursuit of him makes him the envy of many onlookers, she seems ill-suited either to join him in brooding or to bring him back to trust and hope. But one of the sweetest strains in the novel is the very (very!) slow unfolding of Ricciardi’s relationship with Enrica, the girl who lives across from his apartment with whom he has been carrying on an extended — well, you can hardly call it a flirtation, when all it consists of to this point is mutual watching, but it’s something like that. Thoughtful, independent, self-contained, Enrica seems a more promising candidate to provide the morose detective with company and maybe even a little comfort, if only her parents weren’t determined to match her with the loutish Sebastiano — and if only she hadn’t seen Ricciardi with Livia, and he hadn’t seen her with Sebastiano…
There’s a comedy-of-errors quality to these personal plots as they unfold, and also a comic edge to the commissario’s partner, Brigadier Maione, who is very cranky for most of the novel because he’s dieting: he believes his wife’s eyes are wandering and that losing weight is his best move to get her back. And everywhere he goes, people are eating! He can’t avoid food: the smell of it, the sight of it, the temptation of it. The poor man! These lighter elements leaven the novel, which is darker than the first also because the political climate has become more grimly dangerous. The series is set in the 1930s, and in this novel Fascist thugs and operatives play direct roles, threatening and killing. Even here, though, de Maurizio complicates simple dichotomies of good and evil with his interlinked themes of love and pain: “in the world that the two of us were helping to create,” someone high up in the Fascist Part eventually admits to Ricciardi, “there was no place for people like us. And there never will be.”
The idea of people in their “place” is (as the title tells us) another recurrent theme of the novel. Naples itself, as a place, has a vivid presence, but different characters experience their own place in it, in society, in their families in very different ways. The most conservative ideas of place — that people should not seek to rise outside their class, for instance, or that women should stay in their homes and keep their husbands — turn out to be the most damaging, and to be congruent with Fascism, which is all about keeping people in line, discouraging independence, difference, or resistance. Against the rigid Fascistic insistence on order, Everyone In Their Place sets the disruptive power of love, which may itself be deadly (especially, as Ricciardi experiences, when it turns to jealousy) but which is also the world’s best hope precisely because it cannot be ruled or contained. “You can’t fight love, Commissario,” Ricciardi is told by someone who has tried:
Because if you fight it you’re bound to lose. Inevitably. And so you need to take the initiative, and you need to pluck this love, the way you might one of these flowers. When you love, then you find that you love the world as well, and you want to sing, and shout, and laugh about nothing at all, in the light of day.
Nothing could be less like the commissario’s usual way of being in the world! As the novel ends, though, he has not only solved the murder but also accepted that happiness might be worth the risk.