Having read most of Daphne du Maurier’s more popular books I’m now slowly working through her lesser known novels (though I’m saving Frenchman’s Creek for last as I’m expecting to love that one and want to have something to look forward to). Published in the 1960s, The Flight of the Falcon was one of her final novels and although I didn’t think it was one of her best, I did still enjoy it. If you’re new to du Maurier I would recommend reading some of her other books first, but this one is definitely worth reading too.
Our narrator, Armino Fabbio, works for Sunshine Tours and at the beginning of the book he is showing a group of British and American tourists the sights of Rome. By chance he becomes indirectly involved in the murder of an elderly peasant woman, who he believes he recognises as his childhood nurse, Marta. Deciding to visit Ruffano, the town of his birth, in an attempt to find out what had happened to Marta, Armino begins to uncover some shocking family secrets.
After Armino’s arrival in Ruffano (which is based on the real Italian city of Urbino), the story begins to revolve around the city’s university and the rivalry between the Arts students and the Commerce & Economics students. The battle between these two groups reaches its climax during the preparations for a festival re-enacting the final moments of the city’s fifteenth-century ruler, the evil Duke Claudio – also known as The Falcon.
As I think I’ve said every time I’ve written about a du Maurier book, one of the things I love most about her writing is the atmosphere she creates. In The Flight of the Falcon she succeeds in making Ruffano, with its medieval streets, historic churches and ducal palace, seem beautiful and picturesque but claustrophobic and forbidding at the same time. Whether she’s writing about Cornwall, Italy, France or any other part of the world, her settings always feel vivid and real.
Not everything about this book worked for me, though. I found I didn’t really care about the university politics and rival student groups, which formed such a big part of the plot. I was much more interested in Armino’s personal story. Armino himself is not the strongest of characters, but I was fascinated by his relationship with his elder brother, Aldo. And I hadn’t realised how many of du Maurier’s novels have male narrators! My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat, The House on the Strand, I’ll Never Be Young Again and now this one. Are there any others?