Murder In Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy (Paperback)
“A murder mystery, a model of investigative reporting, a celebration of the fierce bonds that hold families together through tragedies…Murder in Matera is a gem.” — San Francisco Chronicle
"Tantalizing" — NPR
“A thrilling detective story… Stapinski pursues the study of her family’s criminal genealogy with unexpected emotional results.” — Library Journal
A writer goes deep into the heart of Italy to unravel a century-old family mystery in this spellbinding memoir that blends the suspenseful twists of Making a Murderer and the emotional insight of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels.
Since childhood, Helene Stapinski heard lurid tales about her great-great-grandmother, Vita. In Southern Italy, she was a loose woman who had murdered someone. Immigrating to America with three children, she lost one along the way. Helene’s youthful obsession with Vita deepened as she grew up, eventually propelling the journalist to Italy, where, with her own children in tow, she pursued the story, determined to set the record straight.
Finding answers would take Helene ten years and numerous trips to Basilicata, the rural "instep" of Italy’s boot—a mountainous land rife with criminals, superstitions, old-world customs, and desperate poverty. Though false leads sent her down blind alleys, Helene’s dogged search, aided by a few lucky—even miraculous—breaks and a group of colorful local characters, led her to the truth.
Yes, the family tales she’d heard were true: There had been a murder in Helene’s family, a killing that roiled 1870s Italy. But the identities of the killer and victim weren’t who she thought they were. In revisiting events that happened more than a century before, Helene came to another stunning realization—she wasn’t who she thought she was, either.
Weaving Helene’s own story of discovery with the tragic tale of Vita’s life, Murder in Matera is a literary whodunit and a moving tale of self-discovery that brings into focus a long ago tragedy in a little-known region remarkable for its stunning sunny beauty and dark buried secrets.
About the Author
Helene Stapinski is the author of Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History, which recounts her family’s criminal history, and Baby Plays Around: A Love Affair, with Music, which chronicles her years playing drums in a rock band in Manhattan. She has written extensively for the New York Times as well as for New York magazine, Salon, Travel & Leisure, and dozens of other publications and essay collections. On the documentary based on Five-Finger Discount, she has worked as a producer and writer. Stapinski has been a radio newscaster in Alaska; has appeared on National Public Radio; was a featured performer with The Moth; has lectured at her alma mater, Columbia University; and has taught at Fordham University. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.
“The style is streetwise Hemingway, the theme is Faulkner in a nutshell.”
— New York Times Book Review
“Lively...engrossing. In addition to solving the murder, Stapinski produces a vivid picture of the region’s hardships, past and present.”
— New Yorker
“Murder in Matera is a remarkable family saga that captures the beauty and grit of southern Italy. The powerful and complicated matriarch at the center of Stapinski’s tale will stay with you long after you finish the book.”
— Gay Talese, author of Unto the Sons and The Voyeur’s Motel
“This book is many things: a gripping murder story, an ancestral journey, a tender yet funny reflection on motherhood and love of country, family, and food. But mostly it’s just a total page turner. Helene Stapinski is incapable of delivering a dull moment.”
— Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects Of Discussion
“Meticulously researched and evocative, Murder in Matera is a powerful story of identity and destiny—and it’s honestly, beautifully told.”
— Mark Rotella, author of Amore: The Story of Italian American Song and Stolen Figs: And Other Adventures in Calabria
“Fascinating and informative . . . Stapinski’s description of the near-feudal life in southern Italy in the 19th century is compelling.”
“A thrilling detective story. . . . Stapinski pursues the study of her family’s criminal genealogy with unexpected emotional results.”
— Library Journal
“Entertaining…part memoir, part murder mystery…Stapinski retells her decadelong search for the truth about the early life of her great-great grandmother Vita.”
— Publishers Weekly
“An enticing page-turner . . . a rollicking, magical tale.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“Stapinski’s research reveals a tragic, twisty history”
“A murder mystery, a model of investigative reporting, a celebration of the fierce bonds that hold families together through tragedies…Stapinski artfully teases out the suspense and the often shocking revelations that she shares here, fearlessly, about her family’s cherished and most troubling myths…Murder in Matera is a gem.”
— San Francisco Chronicle