Years ago, Vinnie Sannino left Naples on a ship bound for America, where he found fame and fortune as a boxer. But his gilded life in the new world came to an abrupt end when, during a fight, with a heavy punch to the head of his opponent, Vinnie killed a man in the ring.
Now, Vinnie’s back in Italy, pining for the woman he left behind. Cettina, however, is now a married woman. She was, at least, until her husband was recently found dead, killed by a single blow to the head. For Commissario Ricciardi, one of the most faceted cops in fiction, and his partner Maione, it is a going to be a long, rainy, week in Naples.
“Deep melancholy infuses the crafty whodunit plot of de Giovanni’s superior ninth mystery set in 1930s Italy . . . Ricciardi, who’s literally haunted by visions of the dead, continues to be one of the most nuanced and intriguing sleuths in contemporary crime fiction.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“De Giovanni is one of the best historical crime writers out there. His Commissario Ricciardi novels, set during the fascist period in Italy, are intelligent and totally engrossing. Nameless Serenade is a perfect addition to the series; a really satisfying murder mystery, an insight into 1930s Naples and a thrilling chapter in the life of the Commissario. Lyrical prose and intriguing rounded characters contribute to making this one of the finest in the Ricciardi chronicles.”—NB Magazine
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|Publisher:||Europa Editions, Incorporated|
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About the Author
Antony Shugaar's translations for Europa Editions include For Grace Received by Valeria Parrella, Everybody's Right by Paolo Sorrentino, Fabio Bartolomei's Alfa Romeo 1300 and Other Miracles, and Margherita Dolce Vita by Stefano Benni.
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Cettina couldn't tear herself away from the window. He had told her that he would come, and he'd never failed to live up to his word before; still, it was getting late and she feared that any moment her father and mother would be home from the shop: at that point, she'd no longer be able to speak to him.
She'd finished cleaning up, and she'd also made dinner. Then she'd combed her hair, gathering her long tresses back into a braid that she'd rolled up at the back of her head; she had her little cap within reach.
The weather was turning nasty, but it wasn't raining yet. That's the way October is, Cettina thought. One day it's fine out, the next it's foul.
For the umpteenth time, she flew over to the large mirror, the one in the front hall, to make sure she was ready to a T. Her brown muslin skirt, her white blouse. Sober enough to avoid giving the impression she was planning to go out, in case her parents came home before he arrived, but still elegant enough that she'd be able to go downstairs into the street to greet him.
Cettina was fifteen years old and had a heavy heart. Because Cettina was in love, and she was afraid that she was about to lose him, her beloved. Still, she was determined to fight for him.
The war had carried off so many men in that year and a half, and still more would be killed in the months to come. It was no joke. Many would never return home, and far too many were home already, wounded, crippled by shrapnel from grenades and mortar shells. That war was incomprehensible, to Cettina. Just as it was for nearly all the women who stayed home to guard and protect a hollow shell of their former lives, waiting heart in mouth for either a familiar footstep or a telegram. Lands too far away to be called part of the fatherland, places too distant to need to be defended with their lives; and the memories of the old folks, who remembered another king and a different nation, were translated into accounts of an ancient grandeur, making even more meaningless the reasons for a conflict that was already hard to accept.
Cettina's father was sick in the chest, and so he hadn't been drafted. Her brother was younger than her, so he was at no risk for the moment. She'd never had to face the anxiety of waiting for a telegram, her heart in her mouth.
But Vincenzo was seventeen years old. He was healthy as a horse, with glittering, laughing dark eyes, and a body that was eager and strong enough to unload carloads of grain and shiploads of cloth. Vincenzo was liable to be sent to the front, if the war went on much longer. That damned war which showed no sign of coming to an end.
Vincenzo, whom she had met the year before, in the summer, near a fountain where he had gone to splash water on his face, and where she had gone to accompany a girlfriend of hers who was a washerwoman. Vincenzo, who had smiled at her in the bright sunlight, dazzling her with his white teeth and his dark skin. Vincenzo, who had stolen her heart once and for all.
They'd talked and talked about it. He would tell her that he planned to go to talk to her father once he had enough money to be able to promise her a life in keeping with the one she lived now. And she would tell him that she didn't care a bit about anything or anyone, that all she wanted was to be with him, hand in hand under the blanket of stars that softened the nighttime sea. He would ask her to wait, while she asked him to hurry up.
And now this thing about America.
All those stories about the land of opportunity. Those fantasies about wealth within reach for anyone who was willing to work ...
Just give me until the war is over, he kept saying. And the thought would come to her — of herself waiting, her heart in her mouth.
That was what afflicted her most. Who am I? she would say to him. If you went off to war, I'd have to spy on your mother's house to find out if something had happened to you. No one would come and tell me a thing. The idea of being excluded from the news had her heart in a vise. That's why she had said yes to the idea of America.
For the hundredth time, she went over to the window and looked down into the street. Nothing. Still nothing.
She felt the eyes of her brother and her cousin on her back, from the table where they both sat playing cards. She pretended to be untroubled, but Michelangelo and Guido could see through that façade.
With feigned indifference, her cousin asked her: "Are you waiting for someone, Cettina?"
"Why, no. Whatever would make you think such a thing? I'm just looking to see whether Mamma and Papà are here."
Michelangelo, her brother, snickered as he pointed to the pendulum clock that enjoyed pride of place on the wall.
"But it's still early for them. They close the shop at seven, and it takes them at least half an hour to do the books, you know that. They won't be home before eight."
Staring at her, expressionless, Guido said: "And in fact, Cettina isn't waiting for Uncle and Aunt. I wonder who she is waiting for."
There were times that Guido really gave Cettina the creeps. He was a hardworking upright young man, two years older than her; he'd lost first his father, then his mother — that is, Cettina's aunt, her mother's sister — and now he lived with them. But he was taciturn, strange, always pensive and with a book in his hand; an outstanding student, but one with no friends.
"No one. I'm not waiting for anyone at all. That is, actually, my friend Maddalena said she might drop by to say hello. Let's see if she gets here in time."
From one moment to the next. Vincenzo might leave from one moment to the next. He had told her that an older friend of his would be shipping out as a seaman, and that he would smuggle Vincenzo belowdecks, in steerage, without having to pay for the ticket. Of course, he'd have to travel as a stowaway, hiding the whole time, but his friend would bring him food and he'd survive the passage. In those ocean liners, people were packed like cordwood, no one would notice a stowaway.
Now that the departure had become an actual possibility, Cettina realized that she had never really believed it. It couldn't be, that Vincenzo was leaving. That she wouldn't see him again for months, maybe for years. And how could she be sure that America wouldn't hold in store dangers every bit as great as the war? What if he wound up in the wrong hands? What if they forced him to stay there, never to return home? What if he ran into wild Indians, who, she had heard, were ferocious and bloodthirsty, even cannibalistic?
What if — worse than any other possibility — he met a woman he liked better than her?
A shrill whistle shook her out of that thought. She couldn't keep a smile from brightening her face. She grabbed her hat and said, calmly: "I'll go meet Maddalena halfway. Five minutes and I'll be right back, she needs to tell me the title of a book I want to read. Guido, you'll look after Michelangelo, won't you?"
She opened the door, indifferent to the eyes of her brother and her cousin on her back.
Vincenzo was holding her hands. In the shelter of the doorway, the icy wind was whistling forcefully. Cettina couldn't seem to stop crying.
"Cetti', why are you crying like that? Didn't we have an understanding?"
The girl shook her head.
"No, we didn't have an understanding! You were the one who had an understanding with yourself. And now you come here and tell me that it's happening tonight. We've talked and talked about what we were going to do: our dreams, a home, children ... "
He interrupted her with vehemence: "So what? It was all true, absolutely true. And we're going to do all that, together, the way we said, just as we swore we would. That's why I'm going, isn't it? I'm going there just for that, to get the money we need, so that ... " "But there so many other ways to do it! I can talk to Papà, you can work in the shop and ..."
"Sure, to load and unload wagons full of cloth. To be a roustabout, a servant."
"Just at first, then you'd become a sales clerk, and in a few years ..."
Vincenzo clasped her hands still tighter: "I'll be able to buy it, your father's shop. I'll go to America, I'll make lots of money, I'll come home, and I'll buy it, lock, stock, and barrel. That's what I live for, to become a wealthy man, worthy of you."
Cettina shook her head.
"But don't you see that I couldn't care less about the money? What am I supposed to do here, all alone, without you?"
"You wait for me. That's what you do. Or would you rather have them draft me into the army, and then see me return home in a box or else in a wheelchair, without any legs? Is that what you want for me?"
"Maybe the war will end. Maybe they won't draft you. Maybe, even if they do, nothing bad will happen to you. Don Arturo, Rosina's husband, writes her every week, and he's fit as a fiddle: he says that he's never eaten so well in his life."
Vincenzo heaved a sigh of annoyance.
"Of course he does, he's at headquarters in Bologna, he can't even see the front through a telescope, he's an old man. Guys like me, they send them straight to the trenches to be bombarded by Austrian artillery. I don't understand you. You say you love me, but you want to send me off to be killed."
The girl shook her head, through her tears.
"No, I don't want that. But I don't want you to leave, either."
"Then come with me. Leave for America at my side."
Cettina started in surprise.
"Are you crazy? What would I do about my mother and father? It would kill them."
The young man smiled bitterly.
"Of course. Because you're comfortable. You have the store, you're rich. You, your brother, and that idiot cousin of yours will have plenty to live on when your father is no longer around, a hundred years from now. What about me? What can I inherit from a father who died when I was two years old and a mother I have to support?"
He fell silent for an instant, then went on, in a serious voice.
"I swear to you that I'll come back to get you. I swear it. But I need you to tell me that you'll wait for me."
Cettina stared at him, her reddened eyes enormous.
"I don't know if I'll wait for you, Vince'. I want a home, I want kids. I don't want to spend my youth looking out to sea and waiting for a letter. If you leave now, I can't say whether you'll find me here waiting for you when you return."
Vincenzo's lips tightened, recoiling as if he'd just been slapped in the face. He nodded and said: "I'll come back to get you, Cetti'. I'll come back for you. You'd better wait for me."
He gripped her by the shoulders and kissed her, with the despairing fury of loss.
Then he turned and hurried away.CHAPTER 2
The young man had been happily surprised to receive Alfonso's call. Usually those things happened only in late spring or in summer, when the nights were warm and the windows were open.
It was simple, in the summer. They'd wander the streets and the narrow lanes — the vicoli — where the women would stay out until late, sitting outside the front doors of their shabby, ground-floor apartments — the bassi — gossiping and struggling against the terrible heat, ready to smile as they saw the two of them pass by, instruments in their hands: Giovino', where are you going? Who's the lucky girl, young man? Who called you? And they'd choose a corner, sniff at the wind and sound out the acoustics, the right distance from the passing carriages and the other noises. They took care to ensure that the music and their words would travel through the air and reach those who needed to hear them, without any misunderstandings, without any suspensions of judgement.
The summer is the right time, the young man mused. When the night is full of flowers and the sea, and the stars settle in like an audience in the tiers of seats and no one will complain about a little music, because tomorrow will be a lazy day, free of shouting. That's when a client was liable to take a rash step he'd never taken before, save between the walls of his home, and entrust his message to a song written who knows when and by who knows who, peering down at the words scribbled on a rumpled scrap of paper under the flickering light of a street lamp swinging on its wire in the light breeze. Or he might even entrust himself to another man's voice, if he was just plain tone-deaf or was afraid of looking like a fool, or even just worried he might spoil the meaning of the lyrics with a voice breaking with emotion.
A serenade has a right to perfection, or at least the attempt to attain it.
The young man, therefore, had resigned himself to the loss of that fruitful opportunity with the end of the warm season, because he knew that the wind, the cold, the windows fastened shut, and the scramble to stay ahead of the loping hunger that lay in ambush for so many the following morning, tended to dissuade people's spirits from the allure of a little poetry. In order to make ends meet, like so many other musicians, he played in restaurants and cafés, or else played accompaniment with the traveling revues and in vaudeville opening acts; work that was often paid with nothing more than a hot meal and some small change. Still, in his mind, he thought more often than not of the serenades, the joy of taking part in the excitement of a young inamorato, the privilege of escorting a sweet sentiment on its journey from one heart to another.
One thing that had always struck him was how much wonder there was in the language of that ritual. It was beautiful to say that a serenade "is brought," not sung. It's brought. That's right, because it's a message. Like a letter inked on a piece of cream-colored stationery with a long goose quill, only entrusted to music instead of to the post office.
For a serenade, people turned to a "concertino." A pair of musicians, in some cases, a trio. A guitar, or maybe two, and a mandolin. If the man sending the message didn't feel up to it, then one of the two guitarists would lend him his voice. There had been a time, toward the end of the nineteenth century, and right up to twenty or so years ago, when vicoli and piazzettas echoed to the tunes of serenades as if it were a party, a festival. Now money was scarce and the first thing people scrimped on, as the young man knew, to his sorrow, was music. These days, work was limited to the institutional serenade, the one that preceded the wedding day, which involved an afternoon of rehearsals at the groom's house, before performing outside the bride's home, with all the neighbors and family members leaning out the windows: a few minutes tuning the instruments ('na tiratella 'e recchie of the pegs, a quick yanking of their ears, as the saying went), a cheerful introduction, and finally the dedicated song, which came to its conclusion to the shouts and cheers of the whole vicolo. The concertino was then showered with coins and Jordan almonds, and took part in the ribald double-entendres and wisecracks about the wedding night to come.
For the most part, older, veteran musicians took part in the concertini. Such an improvised and unpredictable performance demanded the ability to adapt to circumstances, so on the whole clients turned to experienced pros, musicians who had seen it all. There were stories of buckets of cold water tossed over the heads of unfortunate and unsuspecting players who had no idea they were furthering the indefensible courtship of illicit lovers; he'd heard of fathers armed with mallets and carpenter's hammers; even of rival suitors brandishing knives. Still, though, the young man possessed an outstanding talent, and young though he might be, he'd already worked himself into the good graces and high consideration of Alfonso, one of the most skillful and respected "posteggiatori," or professional serenaders, in the city; as a result, he was often recruited for serenades, and that pleased him greatly, considering the lavish remunerations those serenades brought with them. And October, after all, was the most difficult month for a musician. People weren't interested in having fun in October, but he and his mother still had to eat, in spite of the wind and the rain.
For all these reasons, the young man really wanted to make sure everything went right that evening.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Nameless Serenade"
Copyright © 2016 Maurizio de Giovanni.
Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions.
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