Professor Paolo Laurana
Professor Paolo Laurana (pah-OH-loh lahew-RAH-nah), a middle-aged teacher of Italian literature and history. He is a resident of a small Sicilian village, unnamed in the story. When two prominent citizens of the town are murdered mysteriously, Laurana takes up the investigation on his own. A scholar and a longtime bachelor, he is attracted to Signora Roscio, the widow of one of the murdered men. He pursues clues that lead him to Palermo, where he learns that Dr. Roscio was about to reveal a scandal about a prominent citizen of the region. Laurana, a bit timid but curious, pursues the clues until he falls victim to the murderer of the two men.
Dean Rosello, the dean of the church of Sant’Anna in the town, a scrupulous churchman who is the uncle of the murdered Dr. Roscio’s widow, Luisa. Luisa was reared in Dean Rosello’s house, as was his nephew Rosello, who is now a lawyer. It is in the dean’s sacristy that Laurana sees the edition of the newspaper L’osservatore Romano containing the word Unicuique and confirms his suspicions that the death threat sent to the pharmacist, the murdered Manno, was cut from this paper. Rosello, a down-to-earth clergyman beloved by his parish, dislikes his nephew the lawyer, whom he considers unscrupulous.
Rosello, a lawyer, the nephew of Dean Rosello and cousin of Luisa, the widow of the late Dr. Roscio. An unscrupulous manipulator, he is considered by the rector of Sant’Anna to be a fool but a clever one. His power is immense, though not evident to all. Rosello is rumored to have been caught in bed with Luisa. Laurana discovers all this information in his investigations and actually meets Rosello one day in the company of a known Mafia assassin. Rosello pretends to be Laurana’s helper in his investigations, though in the end, Rosello’s purpose is to find out how much Laurana knows.
Dr. Roscio (ROHS-kee-oh), a prominent physician in the town who went hunting with his friend, the pharmacist Manno, and was murdered by persons unknown. Laurana uncovers the fact that Dr. Roscio had caught his wife in bed with Rosello the lawyer and then proceeded to gather a dossier on Rosello’s illegal activities. He then went to a Communist deputy in Palermo and said that he had a file on a prominent man in his community. Dr. Roscio asked if the deputy would reveal the dossier and call for an investigation, if given the file. The deputy agreed, but Dr. Roscio was murdered before he could hand over the dossier.
Signora Luisa Roscio
Signora Luisa Roscio, the widow of Dr. Roscio and niece of Dean Rosello, a voluptuous young woman in her prime. She and her cousin Rosello, the lawyer, conspire to murder Laurana, who has uncovered the background of the murder of Dr. Roscio and the pharmacist Manno. She tricks Laurana into believing that she is sincerely interested in convicting her cousin Rosello and makes an appointment with Laurana to give him more details of a diary of her husband’s she allegedly has found. The appointment is actually an appointment with death for Laurana.
Laurana is not the stereotypical detective. Although he shares with his fictional counterparts a talent for organization and persistence, he has taken to sleuthing primarily out of a sense of academic arrogance and a need for diversion. He has lived in his village his entire life, in a house with his mother—an imposing woman who still rules over her offspring—whom he refuses to leave...
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even to move closer to the school where he teaches. Despite being a local, it is clear that he does not know much about the community in which he lives, specifically about the village’s power structure or about the personal relations of its inhabitants, common knowledge in a community of that sort.
Although Laurana’s prime suspect is someone whom he encounters routinely in his daily life, the detective has to be told about Rosello’s activities by a priest. His criminal investigation is a model of the scholarly detachment befitting his occupation, but it lacks comprehension of human nature. It becomes a manifestation of hubris that, as in Greek tragedy, leads to fatal consequences. Laurana is in over his head and completely unable to appreciate the villainy of such a man as Rosello or the languorous amoral complicity of Rosello’s mistress, Luisa. This village, after all, is a society in which the women are not actors but do the bidding of men. Laurana’s search for truth comes too late to save him or affect the society of which he is a victim.
Rosello is more attuned to reality than is Laurana: The lawyer best epitomizes Sicily’s “madmen, its high-noon and nocturnal demons, its oranges and its sulphur and its booted up corpses.” He is a person whom others in the village can respect and to whom they can closely relate. He is ruthless, powerful, and active. He serves on the board of directors of an important company; as a legal consultant for yet another; as a corporation president; and as the Christian Democratic representative on the provincial council who was instrumental in torpedoing an alliance with the Fascists and promoting one with the Socialists.
Rosello remains as murky and distant but as ever-present, as the landscape in which he operates and the village over which he holds sway. He is a man of great personal charm and intellect, equally at home with a hired assassin such as Ragana and men of breeding such as that “eternal fountain of culture” the Honorable Abello, who bests Laurana in a bit of literary repartee, much to Rosello’s amusement.
Rosello is a great dissembler who remains friendly with Roscio even while plotting his murder. His neglect in covering his tracks comes from his confidence that nobody would dare give him away or that if somebody were stupid enough to investigate him, that person could always be eliminated. His is a different kind of willful pride, but one based on reality.
These two central characters—Laurana and Rosello—are different aspects of the Sicilian personality: the timid, intellectual, aloof scholar; the hard, cruel, practical politician. They pose for the others the fundamental question of what a decent man should do in an immoral situation. The answer suggested by the outcome is that people should keep their mouths shut, trust nobody, and have more reverence for killers than for their victims.
Cattanei, Luigi. Leonardo Sciascia, 1979.
Jackson, Giovanna. Leonardo Sciascia, 1956-1976: A Thematic and Structural Study, 1981.
Mauro, Walter. Sciascia, 1970.
Mitgang, H. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXX (May 12, 1968), p. 40.
Motta, Antonio. Leonardo Sciascia: La verita, L’aspra verita, 1985.