- By Franco Vailati
- First published: Italy, 1935. Translated into English, Locked Room International, 2019.
The most famous Italian mystery novel is certainly Eco’s Name of the Rose, that exhilarating blend of Agatha Christie, Borgesian libraries of Babel, and mediaeval theology – but apparently several Italians wrote mysteries mid-century. Few have been translated.
This is Vailati’s only mystery novel. A banker steps into the toilet aboard a flight from Rome to Palermo – and disappears, one might say, into thin air. Despite the impossible crime, the main influence seems to be Freeman Wills Crofts. Modern transport (trains, planes, boats); methodical police investigation; gangsters; financial skulduggery; and a breakdown of identity problem (suitcases à la Cask). The solution to the impossible crime is clever, but calls for James Bond’s nerves of steel. The villain’s identity is a colossal surprise – partly because he appears on three pages two-thirds through the book. Trying to fool the reader is laudable, but this is unfair. Our reaction should be ‘Gosh! I never considered him!’ or the expletive-laden ‘WHAT?’ – not ‘Who’s he?’
Perhaps the best thing about the translation is that it makes non-Italian readers aware of detective stories in that genre. I’m keen to read more gialli. L’antro dei filosofi (Scerbanesco), La famiglia Morel and Il naso di cartone (D’Errico), L’unghia nel leone and La notte impossibile (Spagnol), È 31 con la morte and La donna sulla luna (Leoni), and Il palazzo delle 5 porte (di Marino)…