The Disappearance of Signora Giulia – Piero Chiara (1970, trans. Jill Foulston 2015) 122 pages
The Disappearance of Signora Giulia was initially published in an Italian newspaper as a serial and is now available in English translation thanks to Pushkin, as part of their Vertigo imprint. It is a quick, snappy crime thriller that does not aim for trite resolution but rather an exploration beneath the surface of a life to the murky depths.
Corrado Sciancalelpre is “blessed with a special form of intuition, that peculiar mental agility that enables great policemen to delve into the minds of criminals.”
Thankfully, he is also happy married and liked in the town in northern Lombardy where he works – no tortured alcoholic with a secret past here.
A powerful lawyer, Esengrini, asks Sciancalelpre to investigate the titular vanishing of his wife. Every Thursday, Guilia has been going to Milan to visit their daughter at boarding school, but now she has failed to return and two bags of her things are missing too. Sciancalelpre agrees and what follows is essentially a police procedural, but the short length of the story ensures the pacing remains tight.
Sciancalelpre is resolutely unsentimental but not without sympathy. The more he investigates, the more he feels for the missing woman:
“He didn’t say ‘Poor Signora Giulia to Esengrini when he visited him in his office every few days towards evening. With Esengrini, he spoke only of the undeniably disappointing results of a search conducted throughout the whole of Italy with Signora Giulia’s photo.”
It’s impossible to say much more about a crime novella without including spoilers. Suffice to say there are plenty of red herrings, people and relationships who are not what they seem. The Disappearance of Signora Giulia is a diverting read, when you’re in the mood for a crime novel you’ll finish quickly. It is not a simple tale though, and the resolution is a complex one that leaves questions unanswered. This wasn’t a source of frustration but rather felt realistic.
I really enjoyed this, Chiara’s first novel to be translated into English despite his huge popularity in Italy, and I hope there will be many more translations to follow.