(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The bodies of Manno and Roscio are found lying in a field, shot to death at close range. The victims had been out hunting that day; their game is now spilled out on the ground. The clues are sparse: Practically none exist save for a Branca cigar stub found near the bodies.

Several days before the murder, Manno had received a threatening letter, pasted together with words from a newspaper. People naturally assume that the crime is one of passion and speculate that Manno either seduced a girl or had an extramarital affair. It is unfortunate that his hunting companion Roscio was also killed; he simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police make a full investigation, gather a list of suspects, and even film everybody that attends the victims’ funerals; but ultimately, they give up.

Yet the crime intrigues Paolo Laurana, a high-school teacher, who embarks on his own investigation, fueled by intellectual curiosity. Laurana has little desire to bring the guilty parties to trial, much less denounce them to the police: “Laurana had a kind of obscure pride which made him decisively reject the idea that just punishment should be administered to the guilty one through any intervention of his.” Laurana deduces that the printed words pasted on the anonymous letter had been clipped from the Vatican newspaper, L’osservatore Romano, and he discovers that only two people in town receive subscriptions to the publication. Both are churchmen: one a dean, the other a rector. Since many others had access to these editions or could have obtained copies elsewhere, however, the clue, although interesting, leads to a dead end.

Hoping to obtain a suggestive reaction, Laurana reveals what he has discovered at an informal gathering at a local men’s club that he frequents, but all that his announcement does is to alert the unknown guilty party to Laurana’s activities. Laurana continues his investigation. He is convinced that the person who arranged the killing was somebody well-known to one of the victims, because hunters usually keep the place where they are planning to go hunting secret, especially on the opening day of the season. The murderer was therefore a friend,...

(The entire section is 908 words.)