In this series Maurizio de Giovanni transforms the police procedural into something deeper and more satisfying. The murder mystery, though never relegated to the background, serves as a kind of counterpoint to the difficulties and anguish, and sometimes joy and hope, revealed in the inner lives of the main characters. We are shown the ways in which our inner lives, our interior dialogue, can lead us astray and isolate us from those we need most.
Commissario Ricciardi has the supernatural ability to hear the final thoughts of those who have died violent deaths. From a less skillful writer this would be a gimmick that would detract from the novel. But de Giovanni uses it as a way to force Ricciardi into a terrible and unwanted isolation, allowing us to see how very important it is to connect with others: with friends, a lover, family. Ricciardi is unable to make those connections because he knows that he will never be able to share his curse with anyone, and especially not with someone that he cares deeply about. And so, even knowing that he cannot live without companionship, he must keep his distance. It is this awful loneliness that, more than anything else, gives the series its power.
In The Bottom of Your Heart it is July in Naples, and the heat is overwhelming. Ricciardi’s tata Rosa has fallen gravely ill, and Ricciardi is terrified and grieving. Maione, Ricciardi’s sidekick, is driving himself mad with the belief that his wife has become unfaithful to him. Enrica, Ricciardi’s neighbor, and the woman that Ricciardi loves from a distance and is loved in turn, has retreated to an island because she has begun to lose hope that Ricciardi will ever express his love. Livia, the well-connected and beautiful ex opera singer who has fallen in love with Ricciardi, is continuing her long campaign to win Ricciardi’s love.
And, yes, a murder was committed: a prominent professor of medicine was hurled out of a window and fell 70 feet to his death. There are a few suspects, and a couple subtle clues early on, but the case remains fairly murky until near the end. De Giovanni does his usual trick of having a couple chapters featuring the unnamed murderer, giving us a partial glimpse of his (or her) motivations, but leaving it quite unclear as to who he (or she) is. And he includes one of his lyrical chapters, in which a motif (in this case, night) is passed from one character to another.
I’ve liked all the books in this series, but I think this is one of the best. De Giovanni uses the extreme summer heat as a metaphor for the passion that led to the murder, for the jealousy that torments Maione, for the longing felt by Livia, for the despair felt by Enrica, and for the grief felt by Ricciardi. Maybe it’s a bit too obvious, but I thought it worked well. Above all, the book is full of compassion and understanding, and that’s not something you can say about most murder mysteries.