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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

(Traitors to All)

Giorgio Scerbanenco

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To purchase Traitors to All

Title: Betrayal
Author: Giorgio Scerbanenco
Genre: Novel
Written: 1966 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 242 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Traitors to All - US
Betrayal - UK
Traitors to All - Canada
Betrayal - India
Ils nous trahiront tous - France
Die Verratenen - Deutschland
Traditori di tutti - Italia
Traidores a todos - España
  • Italian title: Traditori di tutti
  • The second novel in the Duca Lamberti quartet
  • UK title: Betrayal
  • US title: Traitors to All
  • Translated by Howard Curtis
  • Previously translated by Eileen Ellenbogen as Duca and the Milan Murders (1970)

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Our Assessment:

A- : beautifully bleak

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev.* . 27/12/1970 Allen J. Hubin
Publishers Weekly . 14/10/2013 .
The Times* . 1/8/1970 H.R.F.Keating
TLS* . 21/8/1970 .
Die Zeit . 14/11/2002 Peter Henning

(* review of the earlier translation)

  From the Reviews:
  • "Scerbanenco (...) smartly and logically weaves all the various plot threads together." - Publishers Weekly

  • "A little lengthy perhaps but plenty of blood spilt, some of it marvellously messily." - H.R.F.Keating, The Times

  • "(E)xperienced crime readers will certainly want to try this new taste, as exotic as spaghetti con vongole. A strong stomach is needed, and a curious interest in differing gamuts of morality in defferent countries." - Times Literary Supplement

  • "Der Leser taucht ein in die dämmrige Welt der Außenseiter und Durchgedrehten; in einen zwielichtigen Mailänder Dschungel, in dem jenes Konfliktgemisch brodelt, das die Stadt bis heute bestimmt: Kultur, Strebsamkeit und Weltoffenheit auf der einen, Gier und unverstellte Brutalität auf der anderen Seite. Das Resultat sind atmosphärisch dichte Noir-Romane, die auf die Trennlinie zwischen Literatur und Unterhaltung pfeifen." - Peter Henning, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Betrayal -- now also published in the US, as Traitors to All -- is the second of four novels featuring Duca Lamberti, a doctor who has lost his license to practice medicine (and spent a few years in prison) because of his role in a case of euthanasia. Despite that, his medical knowledge and access are still in demand -- from everyone from women seeking abortions to those looking to get their hands on drugs. He is also, occasionally, in demand from the police in Milan -- his father was a policeman -- whom he has helped out in the past and where Superintendent Carrua knows he's a fundamentally decent and reliable man. Lamberti generally doesn't like to get involved with pretty much anything, and takes care to avoid any sort of medical practice; the only thing he's really concerned about any longer is the welfare of his sister and young niece. But sometimes his sense of obligation gets the better of him, and he steps up; so also in this bleak, bleak novel.
       Betrayal doesn't begin with Lamberti, it begins with murder. A cold but calm double-murder and escape, methodically carried out. It's a near-perfect first chapter -- except that it seems to be almost closed and self-contained, hardly the thing to get a mystery-novel going: the getaway is clean and distant, the young woman who commits the crime surely almost impossible to track, and her possible motives a complete mystery.
       One of the victims was Turiddu Sompani, the most crooked of lawyers, whom Lamberti had the extreme displeasure of knowing while in prison, and soon after his death someone shows up on Lamberti's doorstep, claiming to have been recommended by the deceased -- not the sort of recommendation that Lamberti would be likely to want to have anything to do with. Slick Silvano Solvere has a lady-friend who needs a delicate little medical procedure done (though for once it's not an abortion), and Lamberti seems just the disgraced medical professional to turn to. Lamberti wants nothing to do with any acquaintance of Sompani's but he smells a big rat here too, especially considering the money he's offered. So he agrees -- and then heads off to police headquarters, because he figures this is just the tip of a rather bigger iceberg. For one thing, Sompani died in a manner suspiciously reminiscent of the crime he was convicted for, and that seems rather an odd coincidence.
       Superintendent Carrua has faith in Lamberti and in his instincts -- though he's not convinced by Lamberti's explanation for why he wants to get involved ("I need the money"):

And you think you can make money by playing the policeman ? You have some strange ideas.
       Carrua gives Lamberti a minder, Mascaranti, and he also wants to give him a gun -- but Lamberti won't carry one, he knows himself too well:
     He refused categorically, vaingloriously. 'Don't give me a gun, I'm already dangerous enough without one.' He wanted to say more -- that if he had a gun he wouldn't hesitate to fire it, he wouldn't hesitate at all -- but he didn't say it because Carrua knew.
       Solvere's girl comes in for the procedure, which is straightforward enough, and Lamberti tries to ply her for information. He gets some, but the real interesting thing is the case which she brought with her to Lamberti's office -- and which she leaves behind: "Silvano will come and pick it up tomorrow", she insists.
       The case stays with Lamberti rather longer than originally planned. There's a bigger criminal conspiracy going on -- as is also clear from what's in the case, which Lamberti and Mascaranti of course quickly find out -- and Lamberti patiently tries to follow the trail leading to the top. With many of those involved getting themselves killed along the way, it's not an easy trail to follow, but Lamberti knows that the criminals want the case and will come for it eventually. Sure enough, another female patient also shows up at Lamberti's door, requiring a medical procedure .....
       Betrayal is novel with some shocking violence, but Scerbanenco is a master of understated presentation: he doesn't revel in or elaborate on gore, and yet the murders here, from the one in the opening chapter on, make a deeper and more horrifying impression than most much more detailed descriptions ever could. It's part of why these novels -- and this one, in particular -- work so well -- fitting, too, with the character of Lamberti, who is deeply moral and yet not beyond bursts of shocking behavior.
       Typically, Scerbanenco allows, well into the case (and morass):
Never had Milan had such a lyrical, d'Annunzian spring as that spring of the year 1966.
       It's comic relief -- a laugh-out-loud line, by the point -- in this so despairing novel. Lamberti's world, and Scerbanenco's presentation, are the bleakest of the bleak. Lamberti has lost almost all faith with everything -- even as he maintains a fundamental sense of humanity, perhaps anchored by the love of his sister and niece. Typically, too:
Maybe he was too suspicious towards people, but was there any reason, a single one, to trust them ?
       Justice is, ultimately, done, and even the opening chapter's murders are solved -- in a way that's pretty hard to pull off convincingly in a mystery-novel and yet feels entirely believable, a very good sub- or almost separate story that's also very much in keeping with the novels general theme (betrayal/traitors to all ...). The resolution of Sompani's murder is also completely in fitting with the feel of the novel: the killer will be brought to justice -- and yet it doesn't feel like justice at all.
       This is dark stuff, but so well rendered and conceived by Scerbanenco that it's also entirely satisfying. A superior thriller.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 October 2014

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Betrayal: Reviews: Other books by Giorgio Scerbanenco under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Prolific Italian author Giorgio Scerbanenco lived 1911 to 1969.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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