The Sect of Angels
Structured as a condensed crime mystery and based on a true story, The Sect of Angels takes us through a series of epidemics, both medical and moral, in the turn-of-the-century Sicilian village of Palizzolo. The plot is thin enough that little summary can be given without risking spoilers. Lawyer and investigator Matteo Terisi attempts to infiltrate a secret sex cult comprised of the local clerical and noble elite, but the novel’s ponderous use of dialog and an improbably large cast of characters given the modest setting give it a tone of comical repartee instead of crime drama. Think Eyes Wide Shut meets Big Night.
The town’s incessant feuds, outbreaks of cholera and “immorality,” make the big reveal anticlimactic. One wants to like the book, but even the more interesting characters such as the aging curmudgeon Don Anselmo Buttafava and the “people’s” Doctor Enrico Palumbo speak in a closely similar literary voice, imparting a quality of Southern European raconteurism to the entire novel. Perhaps the best touches are the culinary and other cultural references which, while disembodied and irrelevant to the plot, keep the reader’s attention when most at risk of flagging.
Genuine fans of Sicilian culture of the era may find the book either amusing or slightly stereotypical. Those looking for a compelling historical mystery may be disappointed.