Characters Discussed

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Maniac, a shabbily dressed man with wild hair, thin spectacles, and a goatee. The Maniac is an inventive and unpredictable subversive who has been arrested twelve times for illegal impersonations. His disguises and personae include a magistrate, Professor Marco Maria Malpiero, and—perhaps his true identity—Paulo Davidovitch Gandolpho, Prose Pimpernel of the Permanent Revolution and sports editor of Lotta Continua, a Jewish conspiracy newspaper. The Maniac’s revolutionary fervor is grounded in a deep knowledge of fields as diverse as railroads, grammar, explosives, and psychology. He is not only a disciple of Sigmund Freud but also proud to be a certified psychotic. His manner is light and cheerful, suffused with delightful mimicry and a sharply sardonic wit. His hobby is the theater, and in the police station he is at once scenarist, actor, and audience, alternately manipulating, observing, and cooperating with the police buffoons. He chatters endlessly and distractingly but is capable of stating the truth in boldly direct terms: He is both jester and seer, a wise fool. When the discussion turns to political theory, the Maniac becomes didactic and dogmatic, a seemingly disembodied voice of communist ideology. In his subtle way, he is a moral catalyst, forcing the policemen to expose the truth about the anarchist’s death and maneuvering Felleti into an inescapable moral dilemma. The Maniac does not offer to sacrifice his own life senselessly but rather seems to hover above both the action and the moral questions it presents.

Francisco Giovanni Batista Giancarlo Bertozzo

Francisco Giovanni Batista Giancarlo Bertozzo (bah-TEES-tah jahn-KAHR-loh behr-TOHZ-zoh), an inspector with the Milan police, an explosives and ballistics expert. Despite his simplicity and downright stupidity, Bertozzo is supercilious, arrogant, and stubborn. His devotion to the proper conduct of official business makes him an easy target of ridicule. He simply misses the subtleties of the social and political drama in which he is involved, neither knowing how to play along with pretenses nor recognizing when he is being humored or gulled.


Bellati (beh-LAH-tee), the superintendent of the Milan police. Bellati is a loud and vulgar oaf with a quick and explosive temper. He is more brash and more confident than his fastidious subordinates. Although he makes an effort to maintain protocol and appearances, his sense of humor and play overcome him, and he gets caught up in the Maniac’s games and diversions.


Pissani (pee-ZAH-nee), an inspector with the Milan police, from the political branch. Pissani is a weak, cautious, and basically unintelligent man who is baffled by irony and susceptible to the least suggestion or intimidation. Throughout the Maniac’s investigation, Pissani insists unrelentingly that all the circumstances surrounding the anarchist’s death were aboveboard.

Maria Felleti

Maria Felleti (feh-LEH-tee), a journalist from L’Unita, one of Milan’s major mainstream newspapers. Felleti is a direct, challenging, and confrontational reporter; devoted to exposing the truth, she does not respect or defer to the official authority of the police. She is a sensible reformist who believes deeply in the existing institutions of Italian law and democracy; therefore, she does not believe that she can or should take justice into her own hands. When put to an immediate decision once the truth about the anarchist’s death is known, however, she is willing to risk her life for her beliefs.


Constables, a pair of dutiful and efficient police officers. The constables are basically fearful and remain detached, by choice or ineptitude, from the investigation. On occasion, however, they inappropriately interject personal reflections and opinions.


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Inspector Bertozzo


(The entire section contains 2099 words.)

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Critical Essays