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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Death in a Bookstore

Augusto De Angelis

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To purchase Death in a Bookstore

Title: Death in a Bookstore
Author: Augusto De Angelis
Genre: Novel
Written: 1936 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 234 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Death in a Bookstore - US
Death in a Bookstore - UK
Death in a Bookstore - Canada
Sei donne e un libro - Italia
  • An Inspector De Vincenzi Mystery
  • Italian title: Sei donne e un libro
  • With a Foreword by Joshua Sinclair
  • No translator is credited or identified

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Our Assessment:

B- : an entertaining lead inspector-character, but otherwise underwhelming in its paths and twists

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 11/10/2019 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Based on the book's memorable characters, clever red herrings, and vibrant backdrop of pre-WWII Milan, it's easy to see why he ranks this high. This is a treat for classic mystery fans." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Death in a Bookstore does involve a death in a bookstore, but before getting to that there's a Prologue-chapter, in which a street sweeper comes across a package while he's doing his work, early in the morning. The package has a note, saying: "Please deliver to the police station", which the sweeper then dutifully does, handing it over to Inspector De Vincenzi, who is, as so often, at work at this so-late-it's-early hour. The package turns out to contain some surgical instruments, including a scalpel with what seem to be blood stains on it. The inspector wonders what the story behind it might be -- "Maybe a murder ?" -- but there's nothing more to go on at that point.
       Soon later, however, De Vincenzi is called to the scene of a murder; when it turns out that the victim is the illustrious Professor Ugo Magni, a surgeon who has held many important positions in government and public life, and the inspector makes the obvious leap that their must be some connection.
       Magni was discovered in a bookshop, with two bullets in the back of his skull. It's unclear, at first, whether he was actually killed there, and how he and the murderer might have gotten into the bookshop -- shuttered for the night -- is also a mystery. None of his valuables were stolen, so robbery seems an unlikely motive -- though, as it turns out, a book was taken from the store: a 1531 edition of the erotic poem La Zaffetta, by Lorenzo Veniero.
       While the murder did take place in the bookstore (and that book was stolen), Death in a Bookstore is not really a bibliophile mystery. Going over the clues that accumulate during his investigation, Inspector De Vincenzi eventually sums up: "Six women ... and one book !" -- as, indeed, quite a few women, all beautiful women, are to be found in Magni's orbit; as De Vincenzi comes to realize, he clearly was: "A lover of beauty, and a sophisticated playboy". So also the Italian title of the novel presents this as a story of 'Six Women and a Book', as Magni's philandering soon suggests itself as the most likely motive behind his violent death.
       Magni was quite a character. a powerful man who clearly liked to have his way with (many) women. Trying to take it all in, Inspector De Vincenzi has to wonder:

What kind of a man was the deceased who had created an environment of morbid tension, subterfuge and intrigue around himself ?
       Adding to the mix and mystery: Magni turns out to have been: "a fervent spiritualist", including having written articles about spiritism for scientific journals and participating in séances -- another lead that Inspector De Vincenzi has to follow (and then uses to his advantage in unmasking the murderer, arranging a séance that brings the suspects all together).
       Inspector De Vincenzi has trouble making headway in his investigation. So much about it is baffling -- to the extent that he complains: "This crime has all the characteristics of perfection". Someone close to Magni is then also discovered murdered, but that doesn't help make things much clearer (though it's presumably harder to speak of the crime's perfection at that point, as it certainly looks to have gotten messier after the fact, the killer trying to cover their tracks).
       There seem to be solid leads along the way -- Magni's coat and hat seem to have been found, and can be traced back to a career criminal of the lowest sort called 'the Worm', for example -- but nothing ever quite adds up right. Inspector De Vincenzi finds himself stymied at practically every turn -- but he keeps plowing ahead. He's working under some pressure -- he had promised the Superintendent: "If you give me free rein for eight days, on the eighth day I will either bring you the killer of the senator and the girl or I will bring you my resignation" -- but isn't always too hurried; he apparently spends three days mainly: "reading books about spiritism", for example ..... But, of course, at the end of the eight days he gets the killer to reveal themselves (and spill the story of why and how) .....
       Death in a Bookstore isn't so much a police procedural as an Inspector De Vincenzi-procedural. The story is almost entirely focused on him, and follows his investigations, and his many conversations with those connected to the victims and, possibly, the crime.
       Inspector De Vincenzi has his own distinctive style, and this is De Angelis' shtick, making for the appeal of this series featuring a police inspector with unusual methods. So, for example, a colleague remarks to De Vincenzi: "You're more puzzling than the crime itself !" -- and the reader is meant to feel that as well in following Inspector De Vincenzi's unusual approaches to interrogation and analysis, making for a story that twists and turns in arguably constantly unexpected ways.
       As his superior complains:
You disregard evidence ... appearances ... earlier crimes. You disregard motives. You observe people, question them, examine them, judge them with your psychological method and then set them free, having decided that they cannot be guilty, because they lack the moral, intellectual, temperamental, or emotional capacity to commit a murder, this murder. [...] Where will we end up, De Vincenzi ? Your obsession with the psychology of murder is madness !
       Of course, in fact, it serves De Vincenzi well: while he is led down some false trails in Death in a Bookstore, he doesn't get caught up in them, abandoning the perhaps obvious course -- the easy way the police prefer to take -- and following his instincts, and eventually meeting with success.
       De Vincenzi is admittedly an appealing character, and his approaches quite enjoyable to follow, but Death in a Bookstore is a bit flat as a mystery. Magni's womanizing has considerable potential, but with him dead it's hard to really show and utilize that well (beyond in the reactions of the women left behind); among the few really successful moments in the book is when De Vincenzi examines Magni's lovers' hideaway, an apartment that he uses. The spiritism angle is also rather annoying -- the sort of thing too easy to use for any purpose, and yet also not wholeheartedly embraced. A few of the red herrings are amusing enough -- one major one, in particular, only cleared up in the novel's closing -- and there is a colorful cast of characters, from the bookstore clerk to the American who worked for the professor to several of the criminal characters. But the investigation can't quite shale its haphazard feel, a rollcall of people and evidence that never quite add up in the right way; so also the resolution, while perfectly fine, isn't a particularly ingenious one.
       It makes for a decent read, but not a particularly memorable one. Death in a Bookstore has its moments -- particularly in the character of De Vincenzi -- but little more.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 November 2020

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Death in a Bookstore: Reviews: Other books by Augusto De Angelis under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Augusto De Angelis lived 1888 to 1944.

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© 2020 the complete review

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