Saturday, November 18, 2023

82. Flight of the Falcon by Daphne du Maurier

Another nice old book (hardback with slipcover this time) whose provenance I have completely forgotten.  It has now returned to the free library circulation, this time left in a box in Toronto.  I hope that it gets read again.  Flight of the Falcon is the story of an Italian tour guide, Armino Fabbio, a "courier" as I guess they called them at the time.  He is the charming fellow who leads the packs of British and American tourists on and off the bus to their various stops, organizes their hotel rooms and helps them with their little emergencies.  We get a few chapters of this work in detail, which I quite enjoyed, before we get to the main narrative.

One night, encountering a drunken homeless woman collapsed in front of a church, he slips a 10,000 lira note in her hand.  For some reason, the encounter haunts him and he awakens the next to day to learn that she had been murdered.  He also allows himself to realize that she may well have been his old nanny Marta, whom he had lost when his mother and he left their small town in Italy with a once-conquering but now fleeing Nazi officer.  This brings him back to his home town of Ruffano, which has a rich history (as I imagine do many cities in Italy) involving a mad Duke who after living a life of excess, trampled through the town in a chariot and then was torn to pieces by the townspeople.  Now, the university, simmering with its own violence as the rivalries between the Commerce and Engineering department and the Arts department threatens to blow up into a civil war.

I don't know if these kinds of crazy battles and what they call "rags" very violent and unfunny (at least to me) pranks done between these rival student groups were a thing of the turbulent '60s (when this takes place and was written) or is some weird Euro behaviour.  It's pretty wild!  The main narrative for the protagonist, though, is retracing his family roots while trying to find out what happened to Marta without alerting the police to his own minor involvement (the giving of the lira was enough to implicate him in the eyes of the suspicious Italian police).  This leads him to the path of his dominant older brother, whom he believe to have been shot down in the war but is now playing a leading role in the town and in the guise of organizing the big pageant (with a historical re-enactment) may also be planning something even larger and more dangerous.

Flight of the Falcon was an interesting read, somewhat of a thriller but more closer to I guess what is called today "literary fiction".  There is a lot of emphasis on architecture and old paintings and religious artifacts, which bored me but the story of Fabbio's reconnection with his family history and the politics of the town were quite engaging and entertaining.  

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