Critical Context

Sicilian-born Leonardo Sciascia has produced novels, short stories, and essays which focus on a recurring theme: the individual’s search for justice in a society essentially bereft of it. The society is recognizably Sicilian, and the problem which emerges is Sicily’s inability to defeat the evil represented by the Mafia, a criminal organization that controls all aspects of Sicilian political and social life. This corruption fostered by the Mafia has destroyed honor and decency; justice has become a sham and reason has fled.

The method characteristically used by Sciascia to express this theme is that of the detective novel. Four of his books deconstruct the “whodunit” formula, and Equal Danger is central among them. Like the hero of an earlier work, Il giorno della civetta (1961; Mafia Vendetta, 1963; also as The Day of the Owl, 1984), for example, Rogas is an enlightened policeman, the embodiment of a rational, philosophically balanced intellect, who seeks order amid chaos. Like the other novels of this kind, also, Equal Danger ends inconclusively, on the verge of despair, with the social fabric at the breaking point, and is compact, concise, and taut, stripped of all ornament except wit.

Equal Danger differs from its kin by maintaining an almost surrealistic tone. The setting is not explicitly Sicily, or Italy, but a vague Iberian region curiously nonpictorial. Of Sciascia’s major novels, Equal Danger is the vaguest in terms of place and even characterization. There is an abstract feel to the work, as if Sciascia were trying to fictionalize a philosophical discussion of justice, to give narrative structure to an essay. Sciascia himself has admitted that the difference between his narrative and journalistic methods is often marginal.

Such an abstract quality has the effect of universalizing the problem. The corruption and near-anarchy is thus not a Sicilian or Italian predicament but a condition facing all humanity. The evil is not of Sicily but of the world, of civilization which has abandoned the principles of truth and honor. In this respect, Equal Danger presents a darker view than Sciascia’s other novels in this genre, a view more despairing and less certain of the future.