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The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia
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The Day of the Owl (1961)

by Leonardo Sciascia

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English (16)  Italian (2)  French (2)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  All (23)
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Dawn in a city square, a man in a dark suit is just about to jump on the running-board of a bus when two earsplitting shots ring out. The man slumps down, shot dead. So begins this masterfully crafted tale of murder and the world of mafia crime in 1950s Sicily by Italian novelist, Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989).

The author was born and raised in Sicily and loved Sicily. After publishing several works on the history and politics of Sicily, Sciascia entered the world of crime – as a writer of crime fiction, that is. The Day of the Owl features an outsider from the North, one Captain Bellodi, member of the carabinieri, Italy’s national military police responsible for both civilians and military. Perhaps to be expected, our detective-hero Captain has an uphill battle both in solving the case and making the charges stick, since, after all, he is in the homeland of the Sicilian mafia. Anyway, as the entire population appears to live by the code of conduct outlined in Machiavelli’s The Prince, I will cite quotes from this classic text to highlight events in Sciascia's novel.

“For, in truth, there is no sure way of holding other than by destroying.”
Back at the station, in conversation with Giuseppe Colasberna and others Colasberna brothers of the now shot dead Salvatore Colasberna, Captain Bellodi outlines the possibility that if nine out of ten contractors are willing to pay for protection and the inside track on winning the best jobs, doesn’t that make the one contractor unwilling to pay for such protection something of a black sheep, a challenge and a bad example that must be brought into the fold or wiped out? All the Colasberna brothers firmly deny knowing anything about what he is talking about. Thus, the good Captain is given a taste of the mafia’s power in Sicily – even if your very own brother is shot, you will keep your mouth shut.

“Men will not look at things as they really are, but as they wish them to be—and are ruined.”
The Captain asks the passengers who were on the bus what they saw that morning when a man was shot. They all say the windows were so steamy they looked like frosted glass. The driver tells him all his attention was focused straight ahead as he was driving. The conductor was looking down, taking tickets. The Captain asks the fritter-seller who was no more than ten yards away from the shooting. His reply, “Has there been a shooting?”

“Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves.”
The sly, slick, slippery, ever dangerous, ever threatening ex-convict Calogero Dibella is a collector for the mafia and an informer for the police, a man who must use his wits on the razor's edge to survive day to day. He keeps telling people who owe him money (in a joking way, of course) that he left his jacket at prison and if he has to kill someone he could finally go back to prison and fetch it.

“There is nothing more important than appearing to be religious.”
Here is a quote from a high-ranking politician, Honorable Member Livigni, who is continually seen meeting with members of the mafia: "I am accused of being associated with members of the mafia and so with the mafia itself. But I assure you that I have never yet been able to find out what the mafia is or even if it exists. I give you my word with the clear conscious of a good Catholic and a citizen, that I have never met one member of the mafia."

“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
Ah, deception! Turnabout is fair play. One of the high points in the novel is when the crafty Calogero Dibella slips and lets drop a name that turns out to be just what our detective-Captain needs. He and two other carabinieri devise a masterful plan to trap the criminals into confessing. I reread this section several times; it's that juicy.

“He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command”
Toward the end of the novel, Captain Bellodi interviews mafia chief Don Mariano. Words are exchanged; mutual respect is acknowledged. Machiavelli’s quote fits each man like a finely made Italian glove. I wouldn’t want to say anything more specific to spoil such a well-crafted detective novel, so I will end by noting how the title, The Day of the Owl is taken from Henry IV, Part 3, as in how an owl is placid by day but a most effective hunter and predator by night. Will night ever come to Sicily for Captain Bellodi, this owl of the day? Again, Machiavelli: “It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.”

This New York Review Books (NYRB) Classic is 120 pages and can be read in a day or two. And what a read! Highly recommended.
( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
Fun quick read. Being more familiar with Italian culture would have helped me enjoy this more I think. ( )
  BooksForDinner | Jul 30, 2016 |
This is the first book I've read by this author and I really enjoyed it. Given what we know now about the mafia it is strange to think that not so long ago in Italy it's existence was being denied, too many people with too much to lose if they admit that there is such a thing as organised crime.
Despite knowing from the beginning that the people responsible would not be punished, connections in all the right places, I wanted to be proved wrong and for the ending to be different. That for at least one of the people who were involved in the three murders to be sent to jail.

I'm looking forward to the next one and being short stories they are quick reads. ( )
  KarenDuff | Jun 1, 2016 |
A taut murder mystery, although the conflicts arise not so much from whodunit as from the corruption found at every level of society and the nameless characters who are closely observing the case. Salvatore Colasberna is shot dead one morning while boarding the bus in a small Sicilian town. Captain Bellodi, a native of Parma, starts investigating and the trail leads to other murders and multiple culprits. Bellodi is calm and methodical in his investigation, but his disregard for the usual traditions gets him into trouble. As the case progresses, there are cuts to scenes with nameless men discussing and vaguely issuing threats. The book was published in the 60’s and some characters, including politicians, are denying the existence of the mafia. It's probably a little standard now - the stereotype for a Sicilian murder mystery today would involve the mafia, but Bellodi faces multiple people trying to push the murder as a Cavalleria Rusticana-type crime of passion. A good read nonetheless. ( )
  DieFledermaus | Jul 6, 2015 |
Siciliaanse misdaadroman uit 1961, toen het fenomeen 'maffia' nog in alle toonaarden ontkend werd. Belangrijker dan de ontknoping van de misdaad is het beeld dat Sciascia schetst van de Siciliaanse horen-zien-en-zwijgen-maatschappij. Het boek is absoluut nog niet gedateerd. ( )
1 vote chrisgalle | Mar 5, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sciascia, Leonardoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baglione, AnnaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Colquhoun, ArchibaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marchese, RiccardoContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marsh, JamesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oliver, ArthurTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pennings, LindaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scialabba, GeorgeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"The Day of the Owl" was published in an English translation by Archibald Colquhoun and Arthur Oliver in 1964 (NY: Alfred A. Knopf). It appeared under the title "Mafia Vendetta".
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159017061X, Paperback)

A man is shot dead as he runs to catch the bus in the piazza of a small Sicilian town. Captain Bellodi, the detective on the case, is new to his job and determined to prove himself. Bellodi suspects the Mafia, and his suspicions grow when he finds himself up against an apparently unbreachable wall of silence. A surprise turn puts him on the track of a series of nasty crimes. But all the while Bellodi's investigation is being carefully monitored by a host of observers, near and far. They share a single concern: to keep the truth from coming out.

This short, beautifully paced novel is a mesmerizing description of the Mafia at work.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:34 -0400)

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