Commissario Ricciardi has visions. He sees the final seconds in the lives of victims of violent deaths. It is both a gift and a curse. It has helped him become one of the most successful homicide detectives on the Naples police front. But the horror of his visions has hollowed him out emotionally. He drinks too much and sleeps too little. Other than his loyal partner, Brigadier Maione, he has no friends.
Naples, March 1931: a bitter wind stalks the city streets, and murder lies at its chill heart. When the world's greatest tenor, Maestro Arnaldo Vezzi, is found brutally murdered in his dressing room at Naples' San Carlo Theatre, the enigmatic and aloof Commissario Ricciardi is called in to investigate.
Arrogant and bad-tempered, Vezzi was adored by millions and hated by hundreds, but with the livelihoods of everyone at the San Carlo opera at stake, who there would have committed such an act? Ricciardi is determined to find out.
Fans of Donna Leon and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán will thrill to this fresh voice in crime fiction. I Will Have Vengeance is the first book in a quartet of masterful crime novels set in fascist Italy.
About the Author
Maurizio de Giovanni lives and works in Naples. His Commissario Ricciardi series, of which I Will Have Vengeance is the first, has quickly made him one of Italy's most popular and acclaimed crime authors. Europa Editions has published all five books in the series—Everyone in Their Place, The Day of the Dead, I Will Have Vengeance, Blood Curse, and By My Hand—and the standalone Neapolitan thriller, The Crocodile.
Anne Milano Appel's translation of Stefano Bortolussi's novel Head Above Water was the winner of the 2004 Northern California Book Award for Translation.
Read an Excerpt
The dead child was standing motionless at the intersection between Santa Teresa and the museum. He was watching two boys who were sitting on the ground, playing Giro d'Italia with marbles. As he watched them, he kept saying, "Can I go down? Can I go down?"
The man without a hat knew the dead child was there even before he saw him; he knew that the boy's left side was intact while on the right the skull had been crushed by the impact, that the shoulder had been driven into the thoracic cavity, staving it in, and that the pelvis was twisted around the broken spinal column. He also knew that a small balcony was closed off on the third floor of the corner building that cast a chill shadow on the street that early Wednesday morning, a black cloth still draped over the low railing. He could only imagine the sorrow of a young mother who, unlike him, would never see her son again. She's better off, he thought. All this anguish.
The dead child, half obscured by the shadow, looked up when the man without a hat passed by. "Can I go down? Can I go down and play?" he asked him. A three-storey fall, a blinding pain quick as a flash. He lowered his eyes and hastened his pace. He passed the two boys who went on playing their game, their expressions serious. Poor children, he thought.
Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi, the man without a hat, was Commissario of Police with the Mobile Unit of the Regia Questura di Napoli. He was thirty-one years old, the same number of years that marked that century, nine of them under the fascist regime.
The child, who had been playing alone in a courtyard of the family home in Fortino, in the province of Salerno, one July morning a quarter of a century ago, was not poor. Little Luigi Alfredo was the only son of Baron Ricciardi di Malomonte; he would never have any memory of his father, who had died quite young. His mother continually suffered from nerves and died in a nursing home when he was a teenager, studying at a Jesuit college. His last image of her was her dark complexion, her hair already white at just thirty-eight, and her eyes feverish. A tiny woman lost in an oversized bed.
But it was that July morning that changed his life forever. He had found a piece of wood, which his fantasy transformed into the sabre of Sandokan, the Tiger of Malaysia. Mario, the steward of the estate with whom he spent long hours, wide-eyed and breathless, was an enthusiastic fan of Salgari and his stories were quick to become reality. Thus armed, the boy had no fear of ferocious beasts or enemies, but he needed a jungle. There was a small vineyard adjacent to the courtyard, where he was allowed to go. He liked the shade of the broad vine leaves, the unexpected coolness, the hum of insects. Little Sandokan, bold with his sabre, advanced into the darkness, prowling silently through his imaginary jungle. Instead of cicadas and hornets he pictured colourful parrots, and he could almost hear their exotic calls. A lizard dashed across the path streaking the gravel; he followed it, bent slightly forwards, the tip of his tongue protruding, his green eyes intensely focused. The lizard veered, changing its course.
Sitting under a vine, on the ground, he saw a man. He was in the shadows, as if seeking respite from the fierce heat of that stifling July in the jungle. His head inclined, arms hanging loosely at his sides, hands resting on the dusty earth. He seemed to be asleep, but his back was rigid and his legs, stretched out on the path, were somewhat disjointed. He was dressed like a farmworker, but as if it were winter: a wool vest, flannel shirt with no collar, heavy pants tied at the waist with a cord. Little Sandokan, sabre in hand, registered those details without noticing anything out of place. Then he saw the handle of the large pruning knife sticking out of the man's chest, on the left side, like the branch of a tree. A dark liquid stained the shirt, dripping to the ground, where a small puddle had formed. The Tiger of Malaysia saw it clearly now despite the shade of the vines. A little further on, the lizard froze and was eyeing him, almost disappointed at having the chase interrupted.
The man, who must have been dead, slowly raised his head and turned to Luigi Alfredo, with a faint creaking of vertebrae; he looked at him with filmy, half-closed eyes.
The cicadas stopped chirping. Time stood still.
"By God, I didn't touch your wife."
It wasn't because of the unexpected encounter, or the handle of the pruning knife or all that blood; Luigi Alfredo ran away screaming because he wanted to leave behind all the sorrow that the farm laborer's corpse had showered on him. No one ever told him that the crime that had occurred in the vineyard five months earlier was the result of another worker's jealousy. The man fled after killing his young wife as well; they said he joined a group of bandits in Lucania. They attributed the child's fright and terror to his excessive imagination, his solitary temperament, and the gossip of the local women who sat sewing under the window of his room in the evening, seeking a breath of cool air in the courtyard. They referred to it as the Incident.
Luigi Alfredo became accustomed to using that same word when thinking of what had happened to him: the Incident. Since the Incident had occurred ... As the Incident had made him realize ... The Incident that had oriented his existence. Not even his tata Rosa, the nanny who had devoted her entire life to him and who still looked after him, had believed him at the time. Her eyes grew sad and then a flicker of fear appeared, as though she had a premonition that the little boy too was destined to suffer the same malady as his mother. And so he understood that he would never be able to speak about it to anyone, that he was the only one who bore this mark on his soul: a sentence, a damnation.
In the years that followed, he set about defining the limits of the Incident. He saw the dead. Not all of them, and not for long: only those who had died violently, and only for a period of time that revealed extreme emotion, the sudden energy of their final thoughts. He saw them as though in a photograph that captured the moment their lives ended, one whose contours slowly faded until they disappeared. Better yet, he saw them as in a film, like those he sometimes saw at the movies, only the same scene kept playing over and over again. The image of the dead man, bearing the marks of his wounds and his expression at the very last moment before the end; and his final words, repeated endlessly, as if to conclude something the soul had begun before being torn away.
He felt their emotion more than anything else. Each time he grasped their sorrow, their surprise, their rage, their misery. Even their love. On nights when the rain beat against his window and he couldn't get to sleep, he often recalled a crime scene where the image of a baby, sitting in the washbasin in which he had drowned, reached out his little hand toward the exact spot where his mother had stood, seeking help from his own murderess. He had felt the baby's unconditional, absolute love. Another time he was confronted with the vision of a man's corpse, stabbed by an insanely jealous lover at the moment of orgasm. He had seen the intensity of the pleasure and had had to leave the room hurriedly, pressing a handkerchief over his mouth.
This was what the Incident, his life sentence, was like. It came upon him like the ghost of a galloping horse, leaving him no time to avoid it; no warning preceded it, no physical sensation followed it except for the recollection of it. Yet another scar on his soul.CHAPTER 2
Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi was of medium height, and slim. He had a dark complexion, striking green eyes, black hair slicked back with brilliantine: sometimes a strand or two came free, falling over his forehead, and he distractedly smoothed it back in place with an abrupt gesture. His nose was straight and thin, like his lips. His small, almost feminine hands were restless, always moving. He kept them in his pocket, aware that they betrayed his emotion, his tension.
He didn't need to work, thanks to a family income that he didn't care all that much about. And as some relative would remind him during rare summer visits to his hometown, he should frequent a society more suited to the name he bore. But he kept both the income and the title to himself, so he could remain as unnoticed as possible and go about the life he had chosen — or, rather, that had chosen him. You try it, he would have said if he could; you try to feel all that sorrow, relentless and unremitting in all its forms. Constantly, each and every day, seeking peace, demanding justice. He had decided to study law, completed a thesis on criminal law, then joined the police; it was the only way to acknowledge those demands, to lighten that burden. In the world of the living, in order to bury the dead.
He had no friends, he didn't associate with anyone, he didn't go out at night, he didn't have a woman. His family ended with his old tata Rosa, now seventy years old, who served him with absolute devotion and loved him dearly, though she never tried to understand what it was he saw or what he was thinking.
He worked late, isolated from his colleagues who took care to avoid him. His superiors feared his qualities, his extraordinary aptitude to solve seemingly impossible cases, his total dedication to his work: features that made one think of unbridled ambition, a determination to stand out, to climb the ladder, to step into someone's shoes. His subordinates didn't understand his moroseness, his silences: never a smile, never a superfluous comment. His methods were unconventional. He did not follow procedures, but in the end he was always right. Those who were more superstitious — and in that city there were many like that — sensed something unnatural in Ricciardi's solutions, as if his investigations proceeded backwards, as if he went over the course of events in reverse. It was natural that the officers assigned to work directly with the Commissario would react with a scowl of irritation. Moreover, his investigations did not rest: once begun, they ended only when the case was solved. Night and day, even Sundays, until the offender was in jail. As if, each time, the victim were a relative of his; as if he had known him personally.
Some appreciated the fact that he systematically refused the special monetary incentives awarded for the more important investigations, turning them down in order to benefit the squad. Also that he was always present, even giving up his days off. And he kept his subordinates' mistakes from the eyes of their superiors, covering up for them himself, though he later confronted the responsible party bluntly, reminding him to pay more attention. Still, only one of his co-workers was genuinely attached to him: Brigadier Raffaele Maione.
Having recently turned fifty, Maione was very glad to be still alive and in good shape. In the evening, at the table, he was fond of repeating to his wife and five children: "Thank the Almighty God that you have food to eat. And thank your lucky stars that your father hasn't been killed yet." And his eyes would quickly fill with tears at the thought of Luca, his oldest son who had entered the police force like him, but who had not been so lucky. In service for a year, he had been stabbed to death during a search in the Rione Sanità district, in Naples' old historic centre. The pain was still fresh, even though three years had passed. His wife no longer spoke about him, as if that strong, handsome son — who was always laughing and who would take her in his arms and make her go flying and who called her "my girl" — had never existed. And yet there he was, planted squarely in the centre of her heart and soul, displacing his brothers and sisters, and accompanying her throughout the day.
Maione had become attached to Ricciardi at the time of his son's death. The then deputy of police had been among the first to arrive on the scene. Gently, he had asked Maione to leave the tavern where the boy's body had been found, lying in a pool of blood, the knife protruding from his back. Ricciardi had then remained in there alone for a few minutes, and when he came out of the darkness his green eyes seemed to gleam with an internal light, like those of a cat, but they were full of tears. He went over to Maione. In the silence of those present, men embarrassed by the father's anguish, Ricciardi reached out and squeezed Maione's arm. Maione still remembered the unexpected strength he had felt, the warmth of that hand through the fabric of his uniform.
'He loved you, Maione. He loved you very much. He called out to you, it was his final thought. He will always be with you, with you and with his mother.'
Even through the haze of his immense sorrow, Maione felt a chill down his spine and at the back of his neck. He had not asked, either then or later on, during years of surveillance operations or the long trips required by various investigations, how Ricciardi knew, why he had been the one to deliver his beloved son's final message. But he felt that that was exactly what had happened, that the deputy had told him what he had seen and heard, that they were not the usual words of comfort that he himself had so often repeated to families of the deceased.
That's when Maione had become attached to Ricciardi. In the terrible days that followed, without respite or clemency, nights and mornings and afternoons and evenings without eating, without drinking, without going home, he chipped away at the neighbourhood's unbreachable wall of omertà, its code of silence, trading information, even promising to look the other way when it came to certain trafficking, just to get their hands on the vile murderer from the tavern. In the end, even Maione, though fuelled by rage, had to give in to exhaustion. But not Ricciardi, who was gripped by a fiery passion, as though possessed.
And they had caught the killer: in another neighbourhood, still in possession of the stolen goods, surrounded by his accomplices. He had laughed when they burst in. The lookouts he had stationed at the end of the alley were already bound and under guard. A twelve-man operation: there wasn't one policeman who didn't want to get his hands on Luca Maione's killer. When the storeroom had been emptied of accomplices and stolen loot, the man, finding himself alone with Ricciardi and Maione, begged them to spare his life, whimpering and no longer the cocky thug he had been. Ricciardi watched Maione. Maione stared at the man and saw his son as a little boy, bringing him a ball made of old rags, laughing, his face dirty and his eyes shining. He turned and left the room without a word. It was then that Ricciardi had in turn become attached to Maione.
From that moment on, Maione was Ricciardi's constant companion. Each time the Commissario went out, it was he who briefed the squad that was to escort him. He knew that during the first inspection of the crime scene Ricciardi had to be left alone. It was up to him to keep out the other cops, the witnesses, the sobbing family members and curious onlookers, during those first long moments when the Commissario was getting to know the victim, focusing his legendary intuition, and tracking down the fundamentals needed to begin the pursuit. Then too, he acted as counterpoint to Ricciardi's silences and solitary nature, thanks to his innate affability and his ability to communicate openly with people. He was solicitous of the perils the Commissario went up against, always vulnerable, with a boldness that sometimes seemed reckless or even suicidal. Maione suspected that Ricciardi went in search of death, of its quintessential meaning, with an inquiring frenzy, as if to define it, to reveal it; with no particular interest in his own survival.
But Maione didn't want Ricciardi to die. First of all because, in his good-natured simplicity, he was convinced that a part of his lost son lived on in the Commissario. Then too, because over time he had become fond of those silences, those brief smiles, the echo of sorrow that could be seen in the gestures of those tormented hands. And so he continued to watch over the Commissario's wellbeing, on Luca's behalf and in his memory.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "I Will Have Vengeance"
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