THE DARK VALLEY

Written by Valerio Varesi

Review written by Pippa McAllister


THE DARK VALLEY
Maclehose Press
RRP: £18.99
Released: 16th February 2012
Hbk

The summer in Parma has been hot and oppressive, the autumn brings a change of police chief and all the ensuing upheaval leaves Soneri exasperated. His partner Angela insists that he take a late holiday and so the second Commissario Soneri novel sees him return to the village of his youth to forage for mushrooms.

He arrives to find a troubled village; Paride Rodolfi, owner of the salame factory in the town, which is the main employer is rumoured to be missing. Speculation and agitation are rife following the appearance of posters around the town declaring that Paride Rodolfi had not disappeared but was alive and in good health. The tension for the villagers is increased as they are not only dependent on him for employment but also he has borrowed money from most of them offering exceptionally good interest rates. The rumours of his disappearance have led to speculation that his company is bankrupt, which would mean ruin for many.

At first Soneri's determination to have a holiday is paramount and as he retraces childhood steps he remembers things his father taught him. Soneri finds that people either want to involve him or assume that he has come to make some investigations. He is determined to try and enjoy his vacation but, in spite of what he tells Angela in their daily phone calls, he feels slightly curious. Soneri can't escape talking about the events and several times his father's name is mentioned in connection with Rodolfi and the mysterious Gualerzi, also known as The Woodsman. He realises that he needs to know more about his father and how he was involved with the Rodolfis.

As the situation in the town deteriorates beyond the experience of the city born local policeman Maresciallo Crisafulli, extra carabinieri are called in. Their Captain, Bovolenta, although asking for Soneri's advice is reluctant to accept it and sticks to his original orders, with dire consequences.

The town is struggling to cope with a world that is rapidly changing, where tradition is no longer important to the young, although there seem to be few young people in evidence. Greed and widespread corruption are at the heart of the villagers' problems but they blame Rodolfi for their misfortunes, without recognising their own culpability.

As with many Italian novels, food features strongly but in keeping with the setting it is more rustic fare than in some books. The novel has a leisurely pace and an interesting mix of characters and is wonderfully atmospheric, dark and brooding at times, just like the forest where Soneri hunts for mushrooms.

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