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The Murdered Banker

The first Inspector De Vincenzi mystery by Augusto De Angelis

Augusto De Angelis's mystery The Murdered Banker is set in the Milan of the 1930s
Augusto De Angelis's mystery The Murdered
is set in the Milan of the 1930s

The Murdered Banker is a highly significant novel in the history of Italian crime fiction as it is the first detective story written by Augusto De Angelis, who is regarded by many as the father of the genre in Italy.

First published in 1935 in Italian as Il banchiere assassinato, the novel appeared at the peak of the British Golden Age of detective fiction, six years after Italian publishers Mondadori had launched their crime series in yellow (giallo) covers that would later result in the word gialli being used to refer to mystery novels and films.

There were no Italian authors on the first Mondadori list as the publishers did not see Italy as the right setting for the crime genre at that time.

However, journalist De Angelis did not agree, as he thought crime fiction was a natural result and product of the fraught and violent times he was living in and writing about.

To begin with, Mussolini and his associates approved of the crime fiction genre because it celebrated the achievements of the forces of order over evil and chaos by bringing about just solutions and restoring tranquillity. However, they eventually became wary of Italy being seen to be anything less than idyllic by the outside world.

The Pushkin Vertigo edition of The Murdered Banker
The Pushkin Vertigo edition
of The Murdered Banker
The Murdered Banker was the first of 20 novels by De Angelis featuring Inspector De Vincenzi, which he produced over just eight years. De Angelis had a unique style and created a detective who could not have been more different from the eccentric and clever Sherlock Holmes and the methodical little Belgian, Hercule Poirot.

De Angelis is therefore seen as the father of Italian crime fiction. It is interesting to see how many of the traits of his protagonist have appeared in fictional Italian detectives since. De Vincenzi’s loyalty to his friends and care for his subordinates made me think of Donna Leon’s Brunetti. His disregard for the rules, unorthodox  behaviour and moments of inspiration also made me think of Michael Dibdin’s Zen and Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano.

The story starts on a foggy night in Milan, when De Vincenzi is on the night shift and is visited at his police station by an old schoolfriend, Giannetto Aurigi. While he is talking to his friend, who is clearly worried about something, he receives a call about a body being discovered in a house nearby and when he is given the address is horrified to discover it is in his friend’s apartment.

He goes on to discover that Aurigi owes a lot of money, which was due to be repaid that night, and that the dead body is that of the banker who lent it to him.

De Vincenzi feels he doesn’t just have to solve the crime, he has to prove his old friend is innocent of it and he has to do it quickly before the investigating magistrate becomes involved. He tells his friend that he has to tell him everything, or he could soon be facing the firing squad, but Aurigi just keeps repeating that he doesn’t know anything.

De Angelis wrote 20 Inspector De Vincenzi novels in just eight years
De Angelis wrote 20 Inspector De
Vincenzi novels in just eight years
Fortunately, there are plenty of other suspects, such as Aurigi’s beautiful fiancĂ©e, his future father-in-law, Count Marchionni, and the mysterious tenant living in the apartment above. De Vincenzi is determined to get to the truth and he lays a clever trap for the murderer.

Having visited Milan on many occasions, it was fascinating to read a novel set in the city in the 1930s, when gentlemen wore evening dress when they were out at night and treated La Scala almost like a club, where people in society could visit each other in their boxes during the opera.

The cultured and often emotional detective De Vincenzi became very popular with Italians, but the Fascist government considered his creator to be their enemy. De Angelis was arrested and imprisoned in 1943 accused of being anti-Fascist. He was released after three months, but was soon tracked down by a Fascist activist who beat him up so badly, the writer died of his wounds in 1944.

An English translation of The Murdered Banker by Jill Foulston was published by Pushkin Vertigo in 2016. 

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