Authors: Valerio Varesi
THE DARK VALLEY
Translated from the Italian by
First published in the Italian language as
Le ombre di Montelupo
by Edizioni Frassinelli
First published in Great Britain in 2012 by
an imprint of Quercus
55 Baker Street
South Block, 7
Copyright © 2005 by Edizioni Frassinelli
English translation copyright © 2012 by Joseph Farrell
Map by Emily Faccini, from original drawings by Anna Maria Varesi
The moral right of Valerio Varesi to be
identified as the author of this work has been
asserted in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
The translator asserts his moral right to
be identified as the translator of the work.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication
may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any
information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
A CIP catalogue reference for this book is
available from the British Library.
eBook ISBN 978 1 849168 67 0
) 978 1 906694 33 3
) 978 1 906694 34 0
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
businesses, organizations, places and events are
either the product of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events or
locales is entirely coincidental.
1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2
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Also by Valerio Varesi in English translation
RIVER OF SHADOWS (2010)
For my father, Aldo
– known as Fabio –
who taught me the names of trees
There are various different police forces in Italy: the
, led locally by the maresciallo, are a military unit belonging to the Ministry of Defence; the
are a state police force answerable to the Ministry of the Interior, the
GUARDIA DI FINANZA
are charged with dealing with financial crime and answerable to the Ministry of Finance. The
report to the local authorities of cities and the larger towns, and are translated here as the “municipal police”.
The posters were first seen in the village on the feast of San Martino. They said that Paride Rodolfi had not disappeared, that he was alive and in good health. The last one had been stuck up shortly before Commissario Soneri arrived. He could see, as he stood reading it, that the glue was still wet. Something about the wording, with its suggestion of disputes and mysteries, troubled him, and that was even before he heard the rumours that the Rodolfis were in deep trouble, rumours in part prompted by envy and restrained only by the dull respect accorded a family which owned a huge villa on the coast and an enormous salame factory in the village. The name Rodolfi brought back to Soneri the once-familiar trademark featuring a chubby, moustachioed pork-butcher standing alongside a plump pig. The image, which had haunted his imagination since boyhood, appeared on the coloured, oval labels attached to the hams hanging from hooks in grocers’ shops which smelt of lard. This memory had nothing in common with the ambiguity of the newly issued posters which, even if they appeared to convey good news, could not entirely conceal the impression that something was awry.
A curiosity he found irksome began to niggle at him. He looked up at the ring of surrounding mountains, cut in half by low, mouse-coloured clouds, and his imagination transformed those jagged peaks sticking into the underside of the clouds into a well-used set of dentures. Further down, the chestnut
woods were losing their leaves and becoming moist with the heavy dew that would keep them damp until the first frost. The thought of that humidity cheered him, since it would promote the growth of the mushrooms – the very reason he had returned to the valley he had known since boyhood. He hoped to acquaint himself again with the guttural dialect of the mountain people, and with the pleasure of walking with only himself for company. This summer in the city, passed perspiring in a heat he detested, had been particularly oppressive. Autumn had brought a change of police chief, with the round of new regulations, circulars and directives which such changes invariably involve, and all this had left him thoroughly out of sorts. In spite of the years spent in the questura, he felt his exasperation grow day by day. For that reason Angela, his partner, had more or less ordered him to get away. Rather than spend two weeks on the Costa Azzurra, he had decided to go foraging for mushrooms.
Having seized the opportunity to escape from the mists of Parma, he now found himself in a valley in the Apennines where the faint winter sun hardly ever arrived.
“It’s true,” he had said. “I need a bit of peace, I can’t stand any more of this office politicking.”
“Go anywhere you like,” she had said. “I won’t be able to go with you just at the moment. I am up to my neck in work.”
So he was able to leave without any sense of guilt, but as soon as he set foot in the village he found it in the grip of a feverish turmoil. There was a chorus of malevolent whispers beneath the tranquil surface, like a cold sweat soaking an immobile body.
There was a poster on the notice board at the Comune in the piazza. Soneri read the words carefully as he lit his cigar: “We are happy to reassure the community that Paride Rodolfi is in excellent health and is perfectly capable of meeting all
obligations. We are grateful to everyone for the good wishes they have expressed.”
He tried to keep his mind on mushrooms and on the fallen trunks of beech trees which would provide the perfect environment for their growth. He could not wait for the sky to lighten a little to allow him to climb into the hills and pick a mature cep. He wanted to get away from it all and lose himself in the woods.
He didn’t give another thought to the posters until Maini, the boyhood friend with whom he had remained most closely in touch, reminded him about them.
“You couldn’t have come at a better time. We really need a commissario here,” he said.
“I want nothing to do with any kind of police work,” Soneri said.
They were sitting in the
bar, looking down at the piazza lined with stalls for the Sunday morning market, but the continual murmur which arose from them seemed to carry with it an underlying sense of disquiet.
“What brings you here in November?” Maini said.
“You know I’m a great one for mushrooms,” the commissario said, gesturing vaguely towards the mist-covered mountains.
“You’ve chosen a bad year. The summer was too dry and they got burned before they could ripen.”
“They always say that.” Soneri shrugged. “It’s either too dry or too wet or there’s some disease. You’re not going to put me off.”
Maini laughed, looked over at the tables where the older men and women were seated, and changed the subject: “What do you make of these posters?”
“It looks to me like somebody’s idea of a joke. This is the local feast day, isn’t it?”
At that moment Volpi, the gamekeeper, and Delrio, the municipal policeman, turned up. They each gave a nod and sat down beside them.
“The fact is no-one’s seen Rodolfi around,” Maini said.
“Someone did, yesterday evening,” Volpi said. “There was a car like his parked in front of the pharmacy.”
“Who said so?”
“They were talking about it this morning” was the vague reply.
“About a week ago he left word he was leaving,” Delrio said. “A business trip, or so his secretary, Biavardi’s daughter, heard him say.”
“And yet on Friday that team of hunters from the Case Bottini recognised his dog wandering about Costa Pelata,” Volpi said.
“Maybe there was somebody else there,” Delrio said.
“He might have had a row with his wife.” Maini laughed. “It’s hardly a secret there’s no love lost between them nowadays, and every so often he takes off to spend time in the woods in the company of the wild boar.”
“And there’s someone firing a gun during the night,” Volpi said. “Some shots were heard up there. They seemed to come from a double-barrelled Franchi.”
“There’s plenty of gunfire, and no way of telling who’s doing the shooting. They’re always single shots, apparently fired by someone lying in wait for something,” Delrio said.
“These mountains are overrun with poachers. You’d need a whole army to catch them all,” the gamekeeper said.
“If they’re quick on their feet, nobody could ever catch them. Not even the Germans managed it with the partisans,” Maini said. “Anyway, are you sure they’re poachers?”
That sentence was left hanging in the air. Soneri, who had been listening with a gathering sense of unease, became aware
of the rising volume of noise in the bar, and found the stench created by the stale smoke and the dampness uncomfortable. After a few seconds, Volpi raised a hand and let it fall heavily on the table, a gesture the commissario recognised as sign language. The others understood too and smiled, allowing Maini to say, “It seems that recently Rodolfi was not exactly…” and he moved his hands so that the palms were facing upwards. “A nervous breakdown?”
“Exactly, anyone who goes round putting up posters…”
Rivara, the bar owner, came over with the Malvasia, put down the glasses and opened the bottle. Every movement of his big, calloused hands was calm and precise, but then, quite suddenly, he said: “They saw him this morning.”
“Where?” Maini said.
“In his own house,” Rivara replied, jerking his chin in the direction of the mountains. “He was moving around the courtyard, but he seemed to be in pain.”
“Who saw him?” Volpi asked.
“Mendogni. He passed by in his tractor on his way to Campogrande.”
“Is there anyone to back him up?” Soneri said.
“I’m more worried about the gunfire,” Delrio said. “At any hour of the day or night, and after the closure of the boarhunting season… maybe there’s something going on.”
“Let the carabinieri know,” the commissario said.
“They know already. And they can hear it for themselves,” Delrio said.
They raised their glasses in a toast.
“I imagine you’ve all been out already,” Soneri said, referring to the mushrooms.
“There’s not much to find. It’s a matter of luck this year,” Volpi said.
The clouds were higher now in the sky, allowing the men
to make out the Passo del Duca with its dark stretches of pine trees.
“I’m half inclined to go up there this afternoon,” the commissario said.