River of Shadows
One way such books avoid melting into melodramtic schmaltz is to create a compelling narrative present on which the threatening past can intrude. Pierre Magnan's The Murdered House did such a good job of this that he was forced to bring its vanished protagonist back in a sequel called Beyond the Grave.
Valerio Varesi's 2010 novel River of Shadows offers a world as self-contained as Magnan's French villages. Here the world is that of the Po River and the boatmen and others whose lives depend on it. The mystery heightens with the rising river and begins to resolve itself with the subsequent winter freeze and receding flood waters, and if that sounds like a bit much, it got me in tune with the river's slow rhythms — the boatmen in riverside bars listening to radio communications about the rising water, the creak of barges rising and bumping against the docks, the crackle of ice on a frozen floodplain.
The novel contains at least one timely and satisfying red herring, but to preserve the mystery and, at the same time, offer a taste of the novel's pace and atmosphere, I'll leave you with two brief excerpts:
"I would even have defended them if they had been under threat from anyone else. Maybe that's a kind of love, like the love you have for rabbits that you tend and look after with the sole intention of having them for dinner once they have been fattened up."and
"`In an age of prosperity, everyone hates everyone else because egotism springs up everywhere ... Mark my words, poverty will return and people will seek unity again, but it'll have nothing to do with me. ...'
"Soneri felt as though he was back at the debates he had listened to as a student. There were words he had heard declaimed thousands of times at assemblies in occupied sports halls and cinemas, and now they left him with a bitter savour of nostalgia and passion spent amidst the glittering well-being of today. It seemed as though a century of history had gone by, but all that had passed was the brief period separating youth from the present."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012