It is a truth universally aknowledged (in Agatha Christie that is), that an Italian man or woman, when faced with tribulation, will become hysterical, violent and likely to indulge in murder. However unlikely it is that this character is actually the main criminal in any given book, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the police and minor witnesses that it inevitably takes the painstaking consideration of a Marple or a Poirot to save them from immediate conviction.
Ok, I must admit, I was drawn to De Angelis’ crime classic ‘The Murdered Banker’ purely because I wanted to find out the Italian side of the story. Was it going to reveal a matchingly patronising attitude towards the British? The fact is, fan though I am, I sometimes find the gung-ho attitude to murder displayed in Christie’s work a little trying. There’s a relish of the macabre ‘Oh, a murder, what a lark‘ and ‘what boy doesn’t enjoy a good murder eh?’ that I do need to be in the right mood for. I approached ‘The Mudered Banker’ ready to enjoy some good old period crime, with the added bonus of a continental twist to compare with the ‘British is Best’ murder mysteries I’m used to.
The pay-off was almost immediate, as I was introduced to a distinctly non-English style of protagonist. De Vincenzi is a professional detective, not an amateur. He’s not a maverick and I couldn’t even distinguish any especially quirky character traits – no moustache, no love of gardening, no little catch-phrases, nothing. It was all very exotic.
I think my enjoyment of the novel came from my specific genre interest. I wanted to cheer every time someone got upset upon seeing a dead body. There wasn’t even the faintest suggestion that it was a bit hysterical and feeble to to emotionally affected by the experience and it was wonderfully refreshing. Even better, there was a nice little dig at Brit crime, one man states ‘I’ve spent a lot of time living in England, and I am accustomed to considering the profession of private detective as necessary and indispensable.’ This detective is the uninspired Harrington and he is just thrilled to be a part of the action, we’re told ‘he’s been so anxious to start investigating a crime, a real crime. Give yourself an English name, like Sherlock Holmes, and you get involved only in information or surveillance … ‘
If you read the book with exactly the same mindset as me, you’ll have a lot of fun with it. If you read it for the story itself, well I won’t make any promises. This is mostly because a couple of weeks have lapsed between my reading and writing this review and I have managed to forget nearly all of the plot already. Of course, forgettable murder plots are a wonderful thing, because they lead to repeated joy on re-reading, but when so little remains it’s hard to find something to pin a recommendation to. The story begins when De Vincenzi’s evening is interrupted by an old friend, clearly troubled and clearly unwilling to give details about his predicament. Then there’s a phone call reporting a murder at the friend’s fiancee’s home. Red herrings, passionate declarations and lots of confessions later, it will be up to De Vincenzi to correctly identify murderer and motive.
Overall, ‘The Murdered Banker’ is a great book to read as a companion to Golden Age British Crime, but not quite a masterpiece in its own right. Or maybe I just need to try harder. I will definitely be looking out for more translated period crime, if only to see if Christie is always right…
I received my copy of ‘The Murdered Banker’ from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.