To Each His Own – Leonardo Sciascia

“But,” he said to himself, “Sicily and maybe all Italy is full of likable people who should have their heads chopped off.”

To Each His Own is the second novel I’ve read by the Sicilian author Leonardo Sciascia, the first being The Day of the Owl. Despite being radically different stories, the two novels have certain similarities. Both are mysteries set in small town Sicily and both cases center on the exploitation of power by shadowy family organizations that may or may not be the mafia, depending on who is talking. However, unlike The Day of the Owl, To Each His Own is told through the lens of a native Sicilian.

The story opens when the town pharmacist receives a death threat in the mail. He is disturbed, but writes it off as a prank and continues with his plan to go hunting with his friend Dr. Roscio. Neither man returns home, but their bodies and the animals they killed are later found. The police investigation quickly stalls, but the case attracts the attention of Professor Paolo Laurana, a teacher and literary critic who is particularly captured by the death threat, which is made up of newspaper clippings that include the word “Unicuique” (suum): to each his own.

Laurana’s investigation continues around his school duties, starting with the provenance of the death threat. Slowly, though, his suspicions are transferred onto the death of Dr. Roscio, who had recently took an emergency trip to Rome and is married to Luisa the beautiful niece of Dean Rosello. Although Dean Rosello is a local pastor, he is both the spiritual and terrestrial head of household for a family that owns vast tracts of land in and around the city and protected his brothers’ widows, raising their children, including Luisa and another Rosello, as though they were his own, ensuring that his family members married well and received influential posts in local government. Despite the police honing in on the clues that point to the pharmacist being responsible for the death of the two men, Laurana believes that there is something shady about this family and proceeds to become entangled in the the web he is trying to unravel.

I liked To Each His Own better than The Day of the Owl. The latter story is an earlier work and is still a powerful critique of mafia culture, but was too much on the nose. To Each His Own is still an inconclusive story and touches on the same themes, but does so obliquely, which, in my opinion, allows the main narrative to thrive in its own right in a way that The Day of the Owl sometimes did not.

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I have finished The Tattered Cloak, a series of short stories by the Paris-based Russian emigré Nina Berberova, and am now reading John Scalzi’s serial novel The End of All Things.

The Day of the Owl – Leonardo Sciascia

Sposito had a baby face, but the brothers Colasberna and their associates were in holy terror of his presence, the terror of a merciless inquisition, of the black seed of the written word. ‘White soil, black seed. Beware the man who sows it. he never forgets,’ says the proverb.

All right, then, no flights of fancy. But Sicily is all a realm of fantasy and what can anyone do there without imaginations?

Salvatore Colasberna is unusual, but his end is not. He is an honest contractor in Sicily and on the opening page of The Day of the Owl he is gunned down while boarding the morning bus. The same day, a local man named Nicolosi disappears. Tips begin to pour into the police station about both crimes, most of which suggest that one or both were crimes of passion, with almost no indication that the two might be connected. The detective on the case, Captain Bellodi, is an outsider from Parma and newly appointed to Sicily and suspects that there is something more sinister at work. Bellodi is particularly suspicious of the mafia, much to the chagrin of his local subordinates and influential Sicilians in Rome, all of whom insist that the criminal organization doesn’t exist—-that it is conspiracy dreamt up by the malicious outsiders.

The Day of the Owl is, at its heart, a police procedural that follows Bellodi’s meticulous investigation into the two murders. He rejects the premise that either crime is the result of passion, and begins tracking down leads that might reveal that the two murders are connected by the mafia. He manages to track down the two killers and connect the murders and finds enough evidence to arrest a head of the mafia, but the suspects reject his accusation that this shadowy organization is strangling Sicily. The island runs on family relationships and friendships and nothing more sinister, they say.

For all that civilians stonewall and higher-ups put pressure on Bellodi, the actual investigation is straightforward and goes off without a hitch. The plot builds up to a cordial, climactic exchange between the captain and the arrested mafia boss Don Mariano Areno, who plays innocent and mocks Bellodi for seeing an all-powerful organization running Sicily. Areno respects Bellodi, and their tet a tete develops into a debate about how Sicily ought to operate. Despite himself, Bellodi finds himself in love with the insular, intransigent, and backward-looking island that resists assimilation into the modern world.

This particular climax further indicates what sort of story The Day of the Owl is. Although saddled with the trappings of a detective novel and bearing some of the same pacing, Sciascia’s book is more of a portrait of an unnamed Sicilian town and the operation of the mafia, as seen through the eyes of an outsider. Sciascia himself was a native Sicilian and vocal critic of the mafia throughout his life, and the character of Bellodi seems to take on his role as someone who loves he island and the people, but hates the corruption that pervades its society.

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I am going to read another of Sciascia’s novels in the near future, but next up I am probably going to read Dan Simmon’s The Fall of Hyperion.