“A murder mystery, a model of investigative reporting, a celebration of the fierce bonds that hold families together through tragedies…Murder in Matera is a gem.” — San Francisco Chronicle
"Tantalizing" — NPR
“A thrilling detective story… Stapinski pursues the study of her family’s criminal genealogy with unexpected emotional results.” — Library Journal
A writer goes deep into the heart of Italy to unravel a century-old family mystery in this spellbinding memoir that blends the suspenseful twists of Making a Murderer and the emotional insight of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels.
Since childhood, Helene Stapinski heard lurid tales about her great-great-grandmother, Vita. In Southern Italy, she was a loose woman who had murdered someone. Immigrating to America with three children, she lost one along the way. Helene’s youthful obsession with Vita deepened as she grew up, eventually propelling the journalist to Italy, where, with her own children in tow, she pursued the story, determined to set the record straight.
Finding answers would take Helene ten years and numerous trips to Basilicata, the rural "instep" of Italy’s boot—a mountainous land rife with criminals, superstitions, old-world customs, and desperate poverty. Though false leads sent her down blind alleys, Helene’s dogged search, aided by a few lucky—even miraculous—breaks and a group of colorful local characters, led her to the truth.
Yes, the family tales she’d heard were true: There had been a murder in Helene’s family, a killing that roiled 1870s Italy. But the identities of the killer and victim weren’t who she thought they were. In revisiting events that happened more than a century before, Helene came to another stunning realization—she wasn’t who she thought she was, either.
Weaving Helene’s own story of discovery with the tragic tale of Vita’s life, Murder in Matera is a literary whodunit and a moving tale of self-discovery that brings into focus a long ago tragedy in a little-known region remarkable for its stunning sunny beauty and dark buried secrets.
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About the Author
Helene Stapinski is the author of Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History, which recounts her family’s criminal history, and Baby Plays Around: A Love Affair, with Music, which chronicles her years playing drums in a rock band in Manhattan. She has written extensively for the New York Times as well as for New York magazine, Salon, Travel & Leisure, and dozens of other publications and essay collections. On the documentary based on Five-Finger Discount, she has worked as a producer and writer. Stapinski has been a radio newscaster in Alaska; has appeared on National Public Radio; was a featured performer with The Moth; has lectured at her alma mater, Columbia University; and has taught at Fordham University. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.
Table of Contents
Cast of Characters xiii
Chapter 1 All the Knots Come to the Comb 3
Chapter 2 Dark to Dark 13
Chapter 3 Public Mockery 35
Chapter 4 In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit 35
Chapter 5 You Have the Face of the Gallitellis 39
Chapter 6 Go Back to America and Leave the Dead in Peace 49
Chapter 7 A Turned-Up Nose Is Worse Than Hail 57
Chapter 8 You'll Never Be Sated with Bread and Olives 67
Chapter 9 The Truth Always Rises to the Top 77
Chapter 10 Take a Coffee 85
Chapter 11 The Crypt of the Original Sin 91
Chapter 12 There's No Two Without Three 97
Chapter 13 Wild Things 103
Chapter 14 In the Mouth of the Wolf 109
Chapter 15 Gypsies, Gypsies, Gypsies 115
Chapter 16 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday 119
Chapter 17 Thinking on Your Feet 127
Chapter 18 Faithful Home 131
Chapter 19 Cupa Cupa 141
Chapter 20 With Snow You Get Bread, with Rain You Get Hunger 147
Chapter 21 Don't Spit in the Plate Where You Eat 153
Chapter 22 Pinecones for Brains 155
Chapter 23 Eccolo 161
Chapter 24 Go to Cool 167
Chapter 24 Don't Tell the Farmer How Good Cheese Is with Pears 175
Chapter 26 Empty Crib 183
Chapter 27 Puttana 193
Chapter 28 Take This Body, Take This Blood 199
Chapter 29 Far from Town 207
Chapter 30 Way Out 211
Chapter 31 Recoil 217
Chapter 32 Song of the Prisoner 221
Chapter 33 To Every Bird, Its Own Nest Is Beautiful 229
Chapter 34 One Face, One Race 239
Chapter 35 Departure Is Nothing More Than the Beginning of the Homecoming 245
Chapter 36 Last Supper 251
Chapter 37 Get on the Train! 255
Chapter 38 Count Your Nights by Stars, Not Shadows 265
Chapter 39 Come Here 271
Chapter 40 See Naples and Die 275
Author's Note 293
Reading Group Guide 301
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Murder in Matera is Helene's journey into the past to save the future of her children, in this 'Can't stop reading book.' She weaves together the great masters of the past, Zola with his Rougon-Macquart, Balza in 3D details and clearing her children of the Biblical dark cloud, Your children will repeat the sins of their fathers. I loved this book, besides seeing into the life the writer, you are also seeing your life within the words as a reader.