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Monday 10 May 2021

‘Valse Triste’ by Marcello Fois

Published by MacLehose Press.
18 February 2021. 
ISBN 978 0 85705 884 3 (TPB)

Whilst driving back to Bolzano, a small city at the base of the Dolomites in northern Italy, the Ludovisi family, Nicolo, his wife Gaia and their autistic son Michelangelo, pull into the side of the road for a comfort break.  Almost immediately we hear Gaia calling for her son who seems to have vanished into the thick undergrowth at the bottom of the mountains.  A passing priest, don Guiseppe, stops his car and calls the police.

Commissario Sergio Striggio and Chief Inspector Elisabetta Menetti arrive at the scene soon afterwards. They determine the boy is not in his parent’s car and learn that Nicolo and Gaia’s marriage is going through a tough time. Nicolo admits Michelangelo is difficult to deal with - earlier we had seen him raise his hand as though to hit the boy. Routine investigations fail to discover the boy who seems to have disappeared into thin air. However, we learn that Michelangelo’s mother, Gaia, had a twin brother who had also disappeared without trace when he was young.  He had never been found, but their father had been convicted of abusing him and sent to prison. Gaia was subsequently fostered by Nicolo’s parent’s, and the teenagers developed a seriously intense relationship long before they married.

Whilst Striggio is trying to uncover what has happened to Michelangelo, he is conducting a relationship with Leo, whom he loves, and trying to avoid one with CI Menetti who loves him but whom he doesn’t love. He is also preoccupied with the impending visit of his father, Pietro. Striggio is determined to tell Pietro that he is gay, but Pietro is seriously ill and has more important matters on his mind.

Striggio’s investigation and his love life then become entangled. Leo teaches at the primary school Michelangelo attended, and he knows that Sarah, the boy’s class teacher, has been having an affair with the missing boy’s father. Leo has neglected to give this vital information to Striggio. Sarah has already hinted to Gaia that Michelangelo showed signs of being abused.

There are two main threads in this sensitively written and sympathetically translated book: crime, and communication with those you love. Of these, to my mind at least, communication is Marcello Fois’s standout achievement. Whether it is between father and son, Pietro and Striggio; between Striggio and his young lover Leo; or even between Gia, Nicolo and their autistic son, Michelangelo; the difficulties of communicating are beautifully portrayed. Possibly as a result of his less than satisfactory upbringing, Striggio has an inbuilt inability to communicate freely and honestly with those closest to him. During exchanges between Striggio and his father and lover, we are continually exposed to “shorthand conversations” that both convey and conceal the misery of years of shared experiences and missed opportunities. This is a book that deserves to be read, and read slowly, both to solve the mystery of what has happened to Michelangelo and why it has happened, and to savour the poetic nature of the text.
Reviewer Angela Crowther

Marcello Fois was born in Sardinia in 1960 and is one of a gifted group of writers called 'Group 13', who explore the cultural roots of their various regions. He writes for the theatre, television and cinema, and is the author several novels, including The Advocate (2003). Silvester Mazzarella is a translator of Italian and Swedish literature. He lives in Canterbury.

Angela Crowther  is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner. 

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