Returning to Ruffano, his birth place, to investigate whether his old nurse was the murder victim in front of a church, he is never more shocked in his life when he runs into skeletons from his past. The reader is not so easily shocked. Most of the secrets in the novel are easy to guess. Like the mystery surrounding the birth of Aldo and the murder of Marta. I was not mid-way through the book before I had figured these two out. But this did not in any way deter me from reading the whole book. Daphne du Maurier, as always, gives a certain magnetic energy to her narrator’s voice. His/her method of narrating the events that happen never fail to grasp your interest.Yet, I must say that for the male narrators at least, I find them a bit too weak and dependent. She so aptly brings their sense of helplessness and ineptness to the surface. The style of writing is enough to keep one reading, but the revelations of character are sometimes too insightful for us to be comfortable.
The summary at the back of the penguin edition, prepares us for a repetition of past exploits and the death of the Falcon. The Falcon, Duke Claudio, died a catastrophic death and the people of Ruffano would rather forget the history of debauchery linking them to him. But history is to repeat itself. To re-enact the whole final scene of the Falcon’s life, someone sets out to create a real life play; a play that will be performed in the streets. Beoto, fearful of the outcome and the only one in knowledge of all the facts, is unable to stop it. I read on, sure of what is going to happen, who is going to be the Falcon in the play, yet I couldn’t have guessed the outcome; but I will leave you to find out what happens in the story…………what is the purpose in re-enacting this particular episode? The violence that was in the Duke’s day is repeated through the now famous University at Ruffano, by the mysterious workings of a secret society. The secrets and mysteries unfold slowly, at exactly the right moment. The author’s skill is apparent in the tensions she builds and then the final release.
As always, the atmosphere in the novel is important. Beoto, who is known through most of the novel as Armino Fabbio, vividly remembers the place of his birth and the ducal palace where his father was the Superintendent. The description of his home town, when driving up the hill covered with snow is magnificent. Their is a gothic element in his memories of the religious paintings at the ducal palace and the mental torture he suffered at the hands of his brother, Aldo. Influenced by authors such as Charlotte Bronte and Wilkie Collins, Daphne gives this gothic and mysterious element to all her plots. The atmosphere is always a bit eerie and I personally always feel the narrator is a little detached. This may be because of the style of narration. The reader always feels separate from the action as if watching from a distance, because the narrator is between us and the action. We are seeing it through his or her eyes, not directly. This gives a peculiar quality to Daphne’s novels.
Despite the great story, this was not one of my favorite Daphne du Maurier novels. I would have to say that my favorites are Rebecca and The King’s General. Maybe I’m a sucker for romance – of which there was none in this particular novel!