As my readers know well, Inspector Maigret has kept me company over the last 30 years. I have read his investigations many times. Why do I have such a strong preference for these mysteries? The character written into existence by Simenon’s pen generates a certain fondness. That pen writes of the character’s love for the things of life and of his compassion for the weaknesses of men. But today I do not intend to talk about him. In recent months I have looked into reading detective novels by other authors. One of these authors won me over and convinced me to read all of his mystery novels. All six were published by the publishing company called Fazi. His name is Giovanni Ricciardi. Passionate about literature and history, he teaches Greek and Latin at a high school in Rome. Ottavio Ponzetti, “his” police commissioner from his novels, is also from Rome. Ponzetti is on the go from morning to night throughout the capital city, under the scorching July sun or the spring and autumn rains, to get to the bottom of the cases entrusted to him by the Police Chief.
Unlike Mario Iannotta, a police officer who accompanies him in every investigation and speaks only Romanesque and thus misinterprets all of his boss’s Latin quotations, Ponzetti often refers to literary texts and music. Thus he takes after his author who hides references and citations here and there throughout his text, such that only a careful reader may notice.
Ricciardi is a cultured author, but his depth is not overbearing. Everything he writes in his books is light. Ponzetti, like Maigret, looks at others without condemning them. He is involved in the lives of others with that disenchanted “Romanness” that seems to care to know only those who have lived in the Italian capital city, which is also the center of Christianity, for a long time. Perhaps this is why his novels are marked with evangelical references, with citations from sacred texts, and especially with an authentically human experience, all of which reveal a familiarity with the life of the Church.
Like Maigret, Ponzetti is married, but unlike the Parisian police commissioner, has a problematic relationship with his wife. He also has two daughters. These three women often make appearances in his investigations. This also further distinguishes Ponzetti from Maigret.
For those who, like me, have lived in Rome most of their lives but now live elsewhere, reading these novels is like being back in Rome, seeing its colors again, and returning to its suburbs.
The first investigation is set in Piazza Vittorio (Victor Square), between Merulana Street and St. Eusebius Catholic Church (which is currently entrusted to the pastoral care of the priests of the Fraternity of St. Charles, Fr. Sandro Bonicalzi and Fr. Paolo Buscaroli) which I am very familiar with: I lived in the Esquilino neighborhood for 18 years. “The Cats will Know” (p. 157, 2008, Fazi Editore) tells the story of a cat lady, killed in the very moment the Corpus Domini procession, led by recently elected Pope Benedict XVI, passes from Merulana Street.
What lies behind the crime? What does this cat-friend’s past hide? Whoever wants to get to know the police commissioner Ponzetti can start here. Ponzetti lives precisely where the Fraternity of St. Charles was born.
In the photo: Rome, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. The church of St. Eusebius is in the background.