A Conspiracy of Talkers
by Gaetano Savatteri

Translated by Steve Eaton

Times of Sicily

Malgraddo Tutto

Times of Sicily, 10 September 2021

Gaetano Savatteri is an astute observer of the quirks and nuances of Sicilian society. In our book on Palermo’s Hotel delle Palme, Ghosts of the Belle Époque, we refer to Savatteri’s writing on a couple of occasions. Firstly, we recount the unusual story of Baron Agostino Fausto La Lomia who used to write himself letters whilst staying in the hotel so he could go to reception and grandiosely feel the self-importance of receiving a lot of post. Savatteri describes how he went on to set up an Accademia del Parnaso provoking fascist opprobrium.  Secondly, we delve into the plot of his novel, Il ferito di Vishinskij, where he writes of the attempted assassination of Stalin’s chief prosecutor in a Palermo hotel. From these two examples, it’s clear that the writer, who grew up in Racalmuto, has an eye for idiosyncratic detail. Who better, then, to write a murder mystery set in Sicily? We were delighted to discover that he had, La congiura dei loquaci (inspired by real events from his hometown), which has recently been translated into English by Steve Eaton for Italica Press under the title, A Conspiracy of Talkers.

The book is set during the period after the initial invasion of the island by Allied troops during the Second World War. The Americans have withdrawn from direct day-to-day military intervention, and the island is under AMGOT control. We discover that some US transport trucks have gone missing.  Lieutenant Benjamin Adano, an Italian-American who learnt the college Italian of Dante rather than the Sicilian-inflected Italian of his aunt, is sent down from Naples to investigate. He steps into something of a hornet’s nest, owing to the fact that the extremely unpopular mayor of the town has been killed in the main square. On a rainy night, his body is found sprawled outside the Caffè Cacioppo. The accusations begin to fly, sotto voce, and more overtly. There is seemingly no end of possible suspects, but suspicion falls on Vincenzo Picipò, the man nicknamed Hundred-Ten, an out-of-work sulphur miner. He is a known thief, but there are doubts about his capability to commit murder. Nonetheless, his fate appears to be preordained. Town gossip fixates around his inevitable incarceration rather than his guilt. Even the local carabinieri chief knows he has a role to play in finding enough evidence to send the man for trial.

Against this backdrop, Adano struggles to uncover the story behind the missing trucks. The trail leads to the sulphur mine, run by the deceased mayor and to a monastery where a monk explains a few home truths about the nature of theft in an unfair world. The characters are wonderfully evoked, from Adano’s assistant, Semino, with his fractured English and guile, to the young auto-didact desperate to put his hands on any book in an effort to better his knowledge of the world – a world, however, he knows that he’ll never see at first hand. The facts are grim and a deep sense of fatality hangs in the air, a weary acceptance that things will never change and that this is just the way things are and will always be. This could lend the book a heavy ponderous air, but it doesn’t. The atmosphere is leavened by Savatteri’s sardonic humour and piquant side-ways glance at Sicilian society.

Soon Adano comes to the same conclusion as many of the citizens of the town, namely that Hundred-Ten isn’t guilty, but that he will end up as the fall guy for the real culprit. There is a theatrical scope to the dialogue as the book builds to its conclusion, a finale worthy of a Greek tragedy. Savatteri is not Sciascia or Bufalino, his writing is very much his own, although there is something of Sciascia’s piercing insight and Bufalino’s wry crafted language. He is acutely aware of his subject and writes with a befitting style. Aficionados of both these authors will recognise the similarities and the differences and will really enjoy this book. That said, you can approach A Conspiracy of Talkers from many perspectives; from an interest in the Allied landings, from Tancredi’s perspective in The Leopard, of things having to change to say the same, from an interest in Italian emigration, or from the complex issue of crime and society in Sicily. That said, you can pick it up and just enjoy it as a damn good story. Savatteri is the consummate storyteller, as recognised by Andrea Camilleri himself.

The translator, Steve Eaton, has done an admirable job in capturing the conversations in a natural and unstilted manner, no mean feat given some of the more complicated passages switching between local expressions, Italo-American and formal talk. The words also act as semi-hidden metaphors for class, affiliation and conflict. Little can be said, but much can be meant. In this context, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of over-using English-language dialects in translation, but it’s avoided here to great success. Post-invasion Sicily reveals its multi-faceted layers effortlessly in Eaton’s translation.

— Andrew and Suzanne Edwards

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Malgraddo Tutto, 29 January 2022

This book was gifted to me while I was in Racalmuto in September 2021 for the opening of Casa Sciascia. In fact it was one of many gifts Joe Grimaldi and I received and which we will treasure as they not only enrich us but also are reminders of the good people we have had the privilege of meeting during our time there.

As for the story, I understand that it is based on real events that happened in and around Racalmuto during the Second World War. One of the great benefits of my reading A Conspiracy of Talkers is that I have learned of this event, of which I was previously ignorant. One of the things I love about books is that they not only entertain but educate. This one clearly does both.

I loved the pathos of the characters, clearly depicted by Savatteri in beautiful and sparse prose. His writing of conversations amongst the characters was particularly enjoyable as it not only propelled the plot forward by gave me a clear understanding of the characters including their internal condition and emotional state.

The description of the two solitudes those working to protect and hide the identity of the true murderer… as well as the powerless who are simply pawns of the puppet masters… is wonderful and drew me into the narrative as well as the societal condition of these people at that time in Sicily’s history.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book and recommend to readers who wish to learn more about a moment in time and its people while, at the same time, being entertained by a captivating story written by an author at the top of his craft. I am very much looking forward to reading the next book by Mr. Gaetano Savatteri.

— Charles Criminisi

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