Med noir

By DANA KLETTER  |  April 27, 2006

In The Day of the Owl, one of Sciascia’s best books, Bellodi, a “mainlander,” as the natives derisively call him, comes south from Parma to serve as captain of the carabinieri. He must solve the broad-daylight murder of a local businessman who resisted the Mafia’s demand for protection money. Eyewitnesses will reveal nothing, their faces “as if disinterred from the silence of centuries.” The local snitch, whose job is as much to mislead as to enlighten, meets with Bellodi. He gives him misinformation, thinking of “those other informers buried under a thin layer of soil and dried leaves high in folds of the Apennines ... staking their lives on the razor’s edge of a lie between partisans and fascists.” He is shot on his own doorstep.

In between chapters, anonymous dialogue — conversations unattributed but understood to be among politicians, Mafioso, and clergy — is a “Greek chorus” singing the party line: there is no Mafia, there is no collusion, outsiders will never understand.

In the showdown between Bellodi and the reigning don, Bellodi does not grasp what he is facing: “Beyond the pale of morality and law, incapable of pity, an unredeemed mass of human energy and loneliness, of instinctive tragic will.”

Sciascia wrote fearlessly about Sicilian society in which “ ‘right’ had always been suffocated by violence.” His true-crime close reading of the kidnap and murder of prime minister Aldo Moro in The Moro Affair laid bare the corruption of Italy. In fact, all of his books are haunted by the fascist past, which forever compromises his beloved country’s future.
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