Imagine a time before the Sopranos, before the Godfather, and before Mario Puzo. The mafia, particularly in Italy, was virtually virgin territory in literature - no one dared write about it. Leonardo Sciascia (pronounced "Sha-Sha") was one of the first to break the code of silence.
In the Day of the Owl -- a short, quick read that provides an excellent snapshot of a Sicilian village in the mid-20th century -- Sciascia transplants to unruly Sicily a northern Italian police inspector who has too much integrity to look the other way when a man is shot dead at dawn in a Siclian piazza. Witnesses quickly disavow that they saw anything at all, but rumors begin to circulate. Our hero, Captain Bellodi, is determined to see the assassin punished. But the closer he gets to the truth, the higher the intervention from "His Excellency" and other well-placed members of society.
Sciascia's genius in the Day of the Owl is his subtle description of how the "so-called" mafia manages to keep its operations quiet, ranging from eliminating those who may speak up to using faulty logic to allow for plausible deniability. Can you honestly believe, one mafiosi asks the captain, that an organization so vast, so organized and so powerful can actually exist? Would the police not be able to discover and dismantle such an organization? Would there not be public testimony in court cases? The mafia is clearly just a rumor.
Sciascia's characters are strong, particularly fish-out-of-water Bellodi. On leave in his native Parma, Bellodi considers abandoning what he fears is a futile assignment in Sicily. He quickly decides to return, recognizing that Sicily has won him over, just as the Day of the Owl will win over the reader.