Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Murdered Banker

I've been reading the Pushkin Vertigo issued mystery novels for several years now, and most recently among their books, I finished one of their reprints, an Italian mystery called The Murdered Banker, first published in 1935. It was the first mystery of the Milan-based Augusto De Angelis, credited now as being among the first Italian writers to publish successful mystery fiction in Italy. As the afterward in my edition says, "In 1929, when the Italian publisher Mondadori launched their popular series of crime and thriller titles (clad in the yellow jackets that would later give their name to the wider giallo tradition of Italian books and films), there were no Italian authors on the list. Many thought Italy was inherently infertile ground for the thriller genre, with one critic claiming that a detective novel set in such a sleepy Mediterranean country was an "absurd hypothesis." Augusto De Angelis strongly disagreed. He saw crime fiction as the natural product of his fraught and violent times: "The detective novel is the fruit--the red, bloodied fruit of our age."

No surprise that he saw his surroundings as fraught and violent living in Italy under Mussolini. And the Fascist regime there had an ambivalent attitude toward the genre -- "on the one hand they approved of the triumph of the forces of order over degeneracy and chaos that most thriller plots involved; on the other hand they were wary of representations of their Italian homeland as anything less than a harmonious idyll." Among the populace, though, De Angelis' books were popular, and he went on to write 20 novels featuring his lead character, Inspector De Vincenzi.

De Angelis was a journalist as well as a novelist. I wonder what mystery fiction he read before he wrote The Murdered Banker. I would assume he'd read the English detective writers up to that point and the Americans working in the hardboiled style. But his character of Inspector De Vincenzi is neither a sleuth solving elaborate puzzles in the Golden Age fashion nor a Sam Spade or Continental Op private eye type. The closest analogue to De Vincenzi I see is Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret, and I would assume De Angelis read some Maigret books because by 1935 Simenon had published a lot of them.

In The Murdered Banker, De Vincenzi handles the case involving the killing of the title character, and he proceeds much like Maigret often does, using a combination of deductive logic and intuition. In the apartment where the murder occurred, he questions several people and sort of soaks up the atmosphere of the place, a policeman who is determined and unrelenting but also attuned to his own feelings and the feelings of others. He is also, obviously, a professional investigator and has to answer to pressures from above.

The mystery is solid, and the book, about 160 pages, is all meat. There's nothing I could detect overtly political in the story, but I'm curious to read a couple more of his books to see if other ones do contain things that might have offended the Italian Fascists. His writing overall must have; at some point, he became a target they were watching. They censored his work. He wrote some anti-Fascist articles, and this got him arrested in 1943. He was released from prison three months later, but in 1944, a Fascist thug attacked him in the village of Bellagio, and the beating was so severe that he died from his injuries in the hospital. 

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