(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Set against the backdrop of Benito Mussolini’s new Fascist order in Italy, That Awful Mess on Via Merulana recounts the police investigation of two apparently related crimes. As the novel begins, Inspector Francesco Ingravallo, a friend of Liliana Balducci and her husband, is summoned to their apartment building on Via Merulana, where one of their neighbors, a wealthy widow, has been robbed. The robbery victim, Teresina Menegazzi, reports hysterically that the thief was an attractive young man who, posing as an electrician, entered her apartment, terrorized her with a knife, and fled with her jewelry. Hardly has Ingravallo’s investigation of this crime begun, however, when Liliana Balducci herself is discovered with her throat cut and some of her jewelry stolen.

Dismayed by the murder of Liliana, for whom he has felt perhaps more than friendship, Ingravallo proceeds with an intensive, methodical investigation. Suspicion temporarily rests on a cousin of Liliana, Giuliano Valdarena, but this lead proves false and the young man is cleared. Other possible suspects include a retired government official in the same building, Commendatore Angeloni, and Liliana’s husband, Remo Balducci. Both men, however, also prove to be innocent.

A more promising lead is discovered when the investigation focuses on some young women formerly employed as maids by Liliana. Suspecting that one of them may have been involved as an accomplice, Ingravallo...

(The entire section is 486 words.)