Francesco Ingravallo (frahn-CHEHS-koh een-grah-VAHL-loh), also called Don Ciccio (CHEE-kee-oh), a Roman police inspector in charge of a robbery and homicide investigation. Don Ciccio is a bachelor but is perhaps a little in love with his good friend, Liliana Balducci, who is murdered. Don Ciccio is a complex figure; his patience, determination, hidden feelings, and skepticism are revealed only through his struggles to find Liliana’s murderer. Despite his cynicism, Don Ciccio does not think like most people at his level in society. He always tries to give the poor a chance to defend themselves, rather than assume that they are automatically guilty because of their class.
Liliana Balducci (lee-lee-AH-nah bahl-DEW-chee), an emotionally and physically barren middle-aged woman. She is found in her apartment with her throat cut and her jewels stolen. To Don Ciccio, Liliana symbolized perfect femininity. During the murder investigation, however, a surprising side of Liliana is revealed. Unable to have children, Liliana had poured her affection on some young orphan girls, whom she had employed as housemaids and then helped to make good marriages. Although she was cheated and disappointed every time by those reprobate young women, Liliana always found the strength to continue in her faith in them, helped by the tacit support of her husband, Remo. It seems probable that Liliana was murdered by one of her former protégées.
Corporal Pestalozzi (pehs-tah-LOHZ-zee), a carabiniere, or member of the national police. A coarse and spiteful man, Corporal Pestalozzi succeeds primarily through use of brute force. It is he (with his men) who brings the case to a head when he locates the jewelry stolen from the apartment building on Via Merulana.
Zamira Pacori (zah-MEE-rah PAH-kohr-ree), a laundress and former prostitute. Zamira is a grotesque old woman whose current occupation is a cover for her activities as a bawd, a sorceress, and a faith healer. She surrounds herself with poor, unfortunate young women just as Liliana did, though for more sinister reasons.