Armino Fabbio is a thirty-two-year-old courier in Genoa. He is short (at least shorter than most men), baby-faced and pleasant enough. His work at Sunshine Tours provides him a satisfactory if predictable life. But all of it comes to an end when he spots a peasant woman on the street. There's nothing unusual about a peasant roaming aimlessly on the streets of Rome, but this woman is his former servant Martha. Her death follows her unexpected reappearance, and Fabbio, afraid of police interrogation, flees to his old hometown of Ruffano. This leads to unexpected events. His new job as assistant at a university library, the same university where his late father had once been the superintendent, provides him a temporary position at the school. There he meets some interesting characters, including students from the new Commerce and Economics curriculum. He also gets reacquainted with the past. His brother Aldo, once presumed dead, is now a highly respected professor and leader of a rather strange cult. Aldo is also in charge of an annual festival. This year he intends to reenact the five-hundred-year-old legend of Duke Claudio, known as The Falcon, and he wants to make the festival as lifelike as possible. In a series of twists and turns, Armino discovers just how fantasy and reality, good and evil, play part in his past and present.
At first, The Flight of the Falcon is rather dull. It starts out well, but the storyline is very slow-paced and you have to have some patience with it. It is nevertheless a fascinating novel. Character study is big in this story. The author develops the psychological aspects of the characters so well that their complexity is wonderful. I won't discuss what these complexities are, for that would ruin the fun of reading it for yourself. Another great thing about this book is the atmosphere. The portrait of The Temptation of Christ (which I think isn't based on a real portrait) and its implications play a major role in the story, only as backdrop. It is, in truth, the main theme in this book. The beautiful descriptions of Italy, deep character study, and the sinister and suspenseful plot turn this into an amazing gothic tale. I think this is one of Daphne du Maurier's most accomplished if underrated efforts, a reminder of why I've enjoyed her suspense novels the most. (Her other novels are great and not to be missed though.) So what at first was a near miss to me became a fascinating and unputdownable read. This would cover a number of book club discussions. If you love Daphne du Maurier, then you cannot miss this book.