Welcome back, our Vanina! The new adventure of the vice-questor created by Cristina Cassar Scalia (today in Messina)


By John

In the “cage” of the mystery novel, as Sciascia called it, Cristina Cassar Scalia fits very wellsince she was a little girl, as a reader of crime novels and especially of “her” Maigret, and then as an author of the successful series of the deputy commissioner of the Catania Mobile, Giovanna “Vanina” Guarrasi, now consecrated by TV with the fiction «Vanina – Un vicequestore a Catania», broadcast on Canale 5 and on whose screenplay the same writer worked. A commitment, after giving birth to Vanina, to which she dedicates herself with the same scientific method with which she carries out her profession as an ophthalmologist.

And in fact, in this tenth novel of the series, already in the bestseller lists as soon as it was released, «Il Castagno dei cento cavalli» (Einaudi, like the others), which the writer from Netina (but resident in Catania, although in love with Palermo) will present after Taobuk 2024, in dialogue with the writer Mattia Corrente, today at 6 pm in Messina, at the Bonanzinga bookshop (and then on 2 July in Palermo, CitySea, with Salvo Toscano, and on 3 July at the Botanical Garden of Catania), we find a recognisable Vanina, according to the rules dictated by seriality, with her style, the “vice” of smoking that she does not intend to give up, the cult of good traditional food, the passion for the great cinema of the past, but in evolution, a “person” as Cassar Scalia has always defined her in our conversations on these pages. With his dark sides and his weaknesses, with his ghosts (one, in particular, the death of his father, Inspector Giovanni Guarrasi, who fell in the fight against the mafia) but also with the determination to face his work together with his close-knit team, and with his character open to others, even if a little complicated, with his imperfections and the inevitable stumbles of existence.

She is not a superhero, she is a “cop” and a good one at that, she is not in competition with others, and in fact she left an important career in the anti-mafia of Palermo, her city, for another, more “quiet”, and she lives with her fears, but she has no prejudices or hypocrisy, if anything modesty and discretion. Therefore, we like the human side of Vanina, therefore she concerns us and attracts the interest of both the writer and the readers.
Crime is a profoundly human fact and it is in the human that Cassar Scalia finds her stories, in everything that surrounds crime, which is also a choice like all things in life; and this is what Vanina tries to understand, the choices that others make or have made in the past, and that dress the present, unfortunately also with evil. Vanina always tries to grasp the warnings of the past even through “forgotten” objects or houses and uninhabited places (Cassar Scalia’s passion) when she observes, when she investigates, when she reflects on the detail, according to the lesson of many literary investigators.
It is always there, in the victims’ past that we must go to ferret out the truth, it is there that we must “scafuniari” to solve criminal cases (and not only): Vanina and her beloved Biagio, “Gino”, Patanè (on TV he is the actor from Messina Maurizio Marchetti) are convinced of this, an eighty-three year old retired commissioner with whom she has a special understanding (it often happens that they have the same enlightening intuitions at the same time), “caught up as they are in things of the past”.
«No story from a novel can be more absurd than reality itself» is Cassar Scalia’s thought filtered by Vanina, so also «The Chestnut Tree of One Hundred Horses», the eponymous title of an exceptional site in the territory of Sant’Alfio, on the eastern slopes of Etna, with a large thousand-year-old chestnut tree that is part of the Italian heritage of green monuments (and linked to a legend that wanted it to be the shelter between the 14th and 15th centuries of a queen with a procession of knights and ladies), becomes the place, beautiful and immersed in an exuberant nature of woods, of a spectacular murder in its brutality, initially discovered by two forest rangers: at the foot of the Chestnut Tree, a woman, called the Woodcutter, was brutally killed and mutilated, a loner who lived by selling the products of her garden and chicken coop, mushrooms collected by her, and occasionally working as a guide. So, the crime in the foreground, as always in Cassar Scalia’s novels, which immediately puts us inside the enigma of the story, and makes us become, together with Vanina, together with the narrator, investigators of the human.

Because noir, as has been said, is a social novel and the relationship between places, environments, contexts, the cracks in the present that refer to the past, serve to explore the evolution of the relationship between crime and society. As in this story, more substantial than the others, in which the current crime refers to a Sicilian and Italian context that must be approached again to understand the causes of evil: the world is full of good people who do bad things, it is the lesson of Hercule Poirot, and it is in this world of good people that the temptation of evil grows. For the rest, in this story you can feel the breath of the places, lovingly topographed, with the quantity of beauty offered by Sicily (always put in the foreground by Cassar Scalia), with the liveliness of its idiomatic expressions (never superfluous) but also with its immobility, between highways with interminable interruptions and kilometre-long queues, and yet lush with exceptional food, between Sicilian dishes from Etna restaurants, trays of rotisserie and pastry (Vanina’s passion), ravioli, granitas and brioches.
And Vanina, who this time has her sister Costanza, known as Cocò, by her side for a good stretch, who came to Catania to get away from a difficult sentimental situation, is ultimately fine there, together with her collaborators and lifelong friends, a solid team in which each and every one has their own personal grey areas, from the prosecutor Vassalli to the chief inspector Spanò, from the inspector Marta Bonazzoli to the Big Boss Tito Macchia, from the lawyer Maria Giulia De Rosa to the journalist Luca Zammataro, from the forensic pathologist Adriano Calì to all the agents, and of course dear Patanè, with their lives that grow on themselves and whose destiny is in the hands of Cristina Cassar Scalia. Who, moreover, the only writer, teams up with Giancarlo De Cataldo and Maurizio de Giovanni and with the two authoritative crime writers she wrote the six-handed novel «Tre passi per un delitto» (Einaudi Stile Libero).

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