Armino Fabbio leads a pleasant, if humdrum life — until he becomes circumstantially involved in the murder of an old peasant woman in Rome. The woman, he gradually comes to realise, was his family’s beloved servant many years ago, in his native town of Ruffano.
Over five hundred years before, the sinister Duke Claudio, known as The Falcon, lived his twisted, brutal life, preying on the people of Ruffano. Now it is the twentieth century, and the town seems to have forgotten its violent history. But have things really changed?
This is the first novel I’ve read by Daphne Du Maurier, which, considering they have been sat on my mum’s bookshelf for ages is some feat. The Flight of the Falcon was a good choice for a starting point, whilst not an amazing literary work, and with a few too many coincidences for my liking (although not half as many as a Charles Dickens novel), it kept me interested to the end.
Part crime novel – although this is somewhat played down as the plot progresses – and part suspenseful thriller, Armino’s adventures are very arts focused. As revelations are uncovered, rivalries seem to echo through history and reverberate around the town of Ruffano. It becomes clear the town is a stage for an encounter more intricate amd terrifying than Armino could have imagined.
The reader is treated to a story that oozes atmosphere, there is murder, secrets, obsession, a dark history, religious and mythical imagery and fervour, all of which is played out to a background tension that constantly ratchets up. Pleasingly and predictably all these plot points are woven around plenty of alcohol and food consumption.
Whilst engaging with all of the above, Du Maurier also explores the complex culture of Italy’s people, so often divided by class, education, politics, war (here focusing on World War II, still fresh in the mind of many in 1965, when this was published), and the most jarring and obvious, generation. This alone is worth reading the book for.
The key word of the title is ‘flight’, which is used in an array of different contexts throughout the story, and also the – connected – nature of forgetting plays a large thematic part. The layering and precise weaving of all the ideas presented is impressive and will most certainly reward further readings.
The descriptions of Ruffano in particular are gorgeously drawn, both opulent and theatrical but also restrained by the mundane. Du Maurier crafts dual natures throughout the novel, not least of which come from the heightened and simmering tensions of academic rivalries. which serve as the boiling point which builds up to the grandiose climax.
Although this is a book that doesn’t rush itself, and didn’t compel me to carry on, it had enough of a dramatic aura that I was interested to see how things concluded. And perhaps all those coincidences really do come down to predestination in the end.