Book review: A Death in Tuscany, by Michele Giuttari

A Death in Tuscany. By Michele Giuttari, Abacus, €13.95

Published in The Sunday Business Post on August 10th, 2008, reviewed by Alex Meehan

When it comes to continental crime novels, Italy’s Michele Giuttari has a lot going for him in the credibility stakes. Unlike crime writers who do their research sitting in the back of police cars scribbling notes on late night ride-alongs, Giuttari has seen it for real.

He spent eight years as the head of an elite branch of the Florence police and was responsible for jailing several key mafia figures involved in the Florence bombings of 1993.

He was also instrumental in reopening the ongoing case of the Monster of Florence, a serial killer who murdered 14 people in the hills of Florence between 1974 and 1985. Such life experience in a genre author is extraordinary and holds out fantastic promise for crime fans looking for a realistic dose of gritty procedural sleuthing.

In A Death in Tuscany, we’re introduced to Michele Ferrara, chief superintendent of the Florence police, as his attention is drawn to an unusual case file.

The body of a 13-year-old girl has been found lying at the edge of the woods, suspected of dying as a result of a heroin overdose.

Disgusted by the age of the girl and that nobody has claimed the body or reported the girl missing after a week, Ferrara decides to supervise the case personally. What initially seemed to be a drugs overdose quickly turns out to be something more sinister and a routine Jane Doe case soon becomes a murder investigation.

However, a second case appears to occupy Ferrara’s time. An old friend, Massimo, has disappeared and is now being sought by the carabinieri, who suspect him of being a conspirator in an unrelated murder.

As Ferrara tries to find Massimo and identify the girl, he has to contend with mafia heavies, a paedophile ring, a network of freemasons-gone-bad and a gang of people-trafficking Albanians.

To make matters worse, he must also negotiate inter-departmental rivalry with the carabinieri officers, searching for Massimo, and bitterness and resentment from colleagues whose collective noses have been put out of joint over the years.

Despite an over-reliance on conspiracy theories and a slightly formulaic approach to the subject matter, A Death in Tuscany is a decent read and Giuttari’s police experience makes up for a lot in terms of establishing credibility.

A Death in Tuscany, and his first novel, A Florentine Death, have been major sellers in Italy and have now been translated into English – a tricky thing for novelists as so much depends on the translation maintaining the feel and flow of the original version.

In this case, the effect is to make the Tuscan setting seem authentic and colourful.

A Death in Tuscany is an entertaining read, more than competent enough to stand next to similar offerings on the bookshelves.

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