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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Equal Danger

Leonardo Sciascia

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To purchase Equal Danger

Title: Equal Danger
Author: Leonardo Sciascia
Genre: Novel
Written: 1971 (Eng. 1973)
Length: 127 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Equal Danger - US
Equal Danger - UK
Equal Danger - Canada
Equal Danger - India
Le contexte - France
Der Zusammenhang - Deutschland
Il contesto - Italia
El contexto - España
  • Italian title: Il contesto
  • Translated by Adrienne Foulke
  • With an Introduction by Carlin Romano
  • Il contesto was made into a film, The Context, in 1976, directed by Francesco Rosi and starring Lino Ventura

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Our Assessment:

A- : sharp writing, and nicely subversive

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 17/3/1971 .
TLS . 26/10/1984 Patrick McCarthy

  From the Reviews:
  • "It is a thriller, mathematically contrived (.....) The detective is pared down to a symbolic simplicity. (...) In spite of its lucid style the whole thing seems written in a kind of code, conceived as a puzzle: murderer and detective becoming almost indistinguishable, merging, swapping appearances and finally roles." - Times Literary Supplement

  • "Equal Danger may be read as an oblique prophecy of the P2 conspiracy to undermine the state. (...) Outwardly simple, these novels are technically complex." - Patrick McCarthy, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Equal Danger begins with a murder -- of a local District Attorney, Varga -- and the killing doesn't stop. One by one, with cold and quiet efficiency, members of the legal profession and the judiciary are knocked off.
       The authorities turn to Inspector Amerigo Rogas, putting him in charge:

the shrewdest investigator at the disposal of the police, according to the newspapers; the luckiest, in the judgment of his colleagues.
       After the first few deaths the trail leads Rogas to cases where men were possibly unfairly convicted, found guilty of crimes they might have been innocent of in proceedings which involved the murdered judges and District Attorney. He flags three men, and one attracts his attention in particular: a pharmacist named Cres, convicted of trying to poison his wife, a circumstantial case where the facts could easily be interpreted rather differently (especially when the wife disappeared once her husband had been locked away). Cres, free again after having served his sentence, eludes the police's first attempt to contact him, and, for whatever reasons, seems to have gone on the run; soon enough: "Cres had become, in a word, invisible".
       Rogas pursues the possibility of Cres being the responsible party, but the powers that be see it differently. Even Rogas' attempts to convince them otherwise don't get very far:
     "Your excellency," Rogas said, "it seems to me we have gone off the right track to follow a wrong one. In connection with the murders of the judges, I mean."
     The Minister looked at Rogas with sympathy and suspicion. He said, "Perhaps. But, right track or wrong, stay on it, stay on it."
       Rogas goes through some of the motions, but he can't help but follow his instincts, finding himself on Rogas' trail again. He suspects the President of the Supreme Court is going to be a target and talks with him, but the President feels secure and well-protected -- and is convinced, like most of the authorities, that the danger is from political opponents; only Rojas understands the lengths Cres will go to to continue his vengeful killing spree (and even he's surprised by how thoroughly Cres has planned ahead).
       The murders lend themselves to political exploitation, and Rogas investigates some of those deemed extremists -- who turn out to be amusingly and pathetically bourgeois. But the authorities have an interest in painting the crimes a certain way and the man Rogas thinks did it doesn't fit that picture. Rogas tries to stand above that fray:
     I have no opinions. If I did, I'd change jobs. I've only got principles.
       Of course, the powers that be don't necessarily have much time for or patience with principles. Equal Danger is, in the original Italian, subtitled and presented as 'a parody', and much of it is a hard-edged humorous take on the police-investigation-tale -- but it takes an almost inevitable very dark and cynical turn in its conclusion, the subversive tale acknowledging that there are powers and decision-makers against whom truth and justice are impotent.
       Rogas is a well-read intellectual, making him odd man out among the police -- he has a: "bad reputation among his superiors and colleagues on account of the books he kept on his office desk, and the clarity, coherence, and succinctness of his written reports"; not surprisingly, he does pretty much all his work all by himself, the lone-wolf-investigator. Still, he bristles defensively at being labeled:
     "I am not 'almost a man of letters,'" Rogas said brusquely.
       His familiarity with literature and philosophy do, however, make for more interesting exchanges with the various figures he encounters, and add a nice sheen to the narratice. Conversely, the murders themselves are for the most part treated almost incidentally, mentioned in little more than passing, even as they add up. It all gives Equal Danger an unusual feel, more intellectual thriller than visceral murder-mystery. In fact, of course, it's foremost a political thriller, but this too Sciascia keeps on a tight leash.
       Simple though most of the elements here seem, Sciascia's light touch is deceptive: the slim Equal Danger is a profound and terribly darkly humorous work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 December 2014

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Equal Danger: Reviews: The Context - the film: Other books by Leonardo Sciascia under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Leonardo Sciascia lived 1921 to 1989.

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