Although Leonardo Sciascia’s choice of protagonist seems foreign to the genre of detective fiction, his careful attention to setting is not. For example, it would be as difficult to divorce Raymond Chandler’s novels from the sleazy mores and glitz of Southern California as it would be to take Scaiscia away from the backwardness and routine squalor of a dried-out Sicilian town, with its obligatory statue of some past dignitary embellishing the main square. In the genre of detective fiction, the hero’s ability to abide by a certain personal code of conduct is an element essential to his success; in Sciascia, the characters must abide by the collective rules of society in order to survive at all.
The husband who finds his wife in bed with her cousin violates society’s canons in deciding to use outside help to obtain his revenge. Thus, he signs his own death warrant. Roscio should have confronted the interloper and settled the matter man to man: “the highest right and truest justice, if one really cares about it, if one is not prepared to entrust its execution to fate or to God, can come only from the barrels of a gun.”
Laurana also pays with his life for his transgressions and deficiencies, especially those involving ignorance about the people with whom he is dealing. Although he is the most decent character in the book, he is judged pitilessly by the others. His disappearance draws no sympathy; he is viewed more as the village idiot than as a victim of barbarity.
Sciascia’s commentary on the land of his birth is a picture without either hope or redemption. The author suggests that those who expect Sicily to be otherwise or who anticipate change are as naive as Laurana. The title of the book reflects this immutability. “One man’s trouble is another man’s blessing,” according to the old saying. Nothing will change, because it is in the interest of a few that it remain the same, even though the beneficiaries are often the least deserving, most disreputable, cruelest members of society.
A murderer is able to get away with his crime because a large part of his society shares his values, or because, as one character says, the whole society is going under and therefore what difference is the fate of the few: “A half-million emigrants, which is to say, almost the entire able-bodied population; an agriculture that is completely abandoned; sulphur mines that are closed; salt mines that are about to close; a petroleum industry that is a joke; regional authorities each more addlepated than the next; a national government that lets us stew in our own juice.... We are drowning, my friend, drowning.” The suspicion that the more things change, the more they stay the same becomes in Sciascia even more disquieting, less paradoxical: The more things stay the same, the more things stay the same.