Friday, August 6, 2010

NYRB Challenge #39: To Each His Own. . .

Regardless of whether you want to read Leonardo Sciascia's To Each His Own, translated by Adrienne Foulk, as a detective story, or as an astute and entertaining portrait of a small Sicilian village reacting to two murders, DO NOT read the introduction by W.S. Piero ahead of time.  Darn it all - not only did it reveal the murderer, but also (more unforgivably), gave away the ending of the book.

Manna, the town pharmacist receives an anonymous letter announcing that he is going to die as revenge for something he has done in the past. As he can't think how he's offended anyone, he nervously treats the matter as a joke. Shortly afterwards he's found shot, along with Dr. Roscio, his friend and frequent hunting companion. The murders are the talk of the town - everyone has an opinion, especially about the victims, and - as is slowly revealed - knows more than they are willing to publicly admit.  The police have no clues save a cigar end found at the scene of the crime. But our curious "sleuth" Laurana, a professor of Italian and history at the local high school, can't help investigating, more for his own intellectual enjoyment than to bring the culprits to justice. Common sense, the odd question and above all chance, are what lead him to the truth.  Sort of. As Sciascia writes:
One corrollary of all the detective novels to which a goodly share of mankind repairs for  refreshment specifies that a crime present its investigators with a picture, the material and, so to speak, stylistic elements of which, if meticulously assembled and analyzed, permit a sure solution. In actuality, however, the situation is different. The coefficients of impunity and error are high not because, or not only or not always because, the investigators are men of small intelligence but because the clues a crime offers are usually utterly inadequate. A crime, that is to say, which is planned or committed by people who have interest in working to keep the impunity coefficient high.
This is not one of those mysteries where figuring out the identity of the murderer is the prime joy, or even the point; there are few suspects and it's soon fairly obvious whodunnit. Instead, the pleasure comes in the breezy, cynical style that accepts the town's apathy towards political corruption and religious hyprocrisy as a societal given. Murder is not that shocking after all; daily life continues with a shrug.  Even Laurana comes to see the case as, "detached and distant, in style, form, and also somewhat in content delineated rather in the manner of a Graham Greene novel."  In short, the narrative has a rather cool, crafted sophistication to it, enlivened by an endearing - if naive - main character and the odd, unexpected literary reference.
NYRB has fortunately published a number of Sciascia's works; I enjoyed this novel very much and am lookng forward to reading more from this author.

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