THE DARK VALLEY, Valerio Varesi
I tracked down this book because I enjoyed the first in the series (RIVER OF SHADOWS) very much, but was prompted to actually start reading THE DARK VALLEY because of another book set in Italy. In that book the setting didn't quite seem to work, and I found myself craving something steeped in the location and culture. Got it in spades.
Commisario Soneri is on vacation in his home village in the Appenines reconnecting with places and memories from his childhood, walking in the forest and most importantly collecting mushrooms. Which is frustrating for him as the crop has been particularly sparse. Finding himself feeling very much an outsider now, his discomfort is made worse when the owner of the local salami factory is murdered and Soneri is torn. The case comes under the jurisdiction of the Carbinieri but he cannot help but ask questions. His disconnection with the locals is both smoothed over slightly and exacerbated in other ways as he finds out the extent to which villagers have lost money because of the salami factory, and how tensions go right back to the Second World War. There's also the distinct possibility that his own father might have been involved in some of the murkier parts of the village's history.
Aside from a beautifully complex and intriguing plot, the thing that is fantastic about both of these books is the sense of a life being lived by Soneri. He's a thinking man who hears and sees a lot of things, quietly processing the information, setting it in the right context. He's also a quiet, driven man who is determined and comfortable a little outside of the general stream of the world. He's brooding but not clichéd, dark but not depressing. The stories, the places and the character of Soneri are all atmospheric and involving. Whilst the crime's are important in these books, a lot of it is about how Soneri reacts to their consequences, sifts through the gossip and hints and braves the uncomfortable truth.
It is autumn in Parma. Commissario Soneri decides to escape the city to return to his home village in the Appenines for a much-needed holiday. He plans to spend the time hunting for mushrooms on the wooded slopes of Montelupo. The small and isolated village revolves around the fortunes of the Rodolfi family, salami manufacturers for generations. Its patriarch, the gifted Palmiro, runs a tight ship, but behind the scenes, all is not well: his son, Paride, has other plans for his future. And then all of a sudden the family finds itself in the throes of a financial scandal, with worrying implications for the entire community. Soon afterwards a hiker discovers a decomposing body in the woods. After initial protestations, Soneri soon gives up all hope of a peaceful break. The complicated relationship he uncovers between Rodolfi and his son becomes all the more pertinent when he learns that his own father and Palmiro Ridolfi were once friends.