Translated by Howard Curtis — For fans of Italian crime books, Donato Carrisi seems to be the up-and-coming writer. The Lost Girls of Rome is his second novel and he is building up a reputation for writing crime fiction with an unusual psychological twist.
A young girl has disappeared mysteriously from her student accommodation in Rome, probably the latest victim of a serial killer. In the rainswept city, two men analyse the case, hoping they can still find her alive. But they are not ordinary investigators – instead, they are members of the Pentienzieri, a secret group linked to the Vatican that specialises in unsolved cases where true evil seems to be involved.
Paramedics reach an isolated house on the outskirts of Rome, where a middle-aged man has just suffered a heart attack. To their surprise, he has the words ‘Kill Me’ carved on his chest and mementos of his victims scattered around his house.
Sandra is a forensic expert whose husband has recently died in a tragic accident. She has been finding refuge from her sorrow in her work, but an unusual phone call from an Interpol agent called Schalber makes her re-investigate her husband’s death. She soon discovers that her husband may have been killed and that he is sending her coded messages from beyond the grave to help her unveil his murderer.
All of these plotlines start interweaving to create a story so complex, with so many different threads, that it is quite difficult to give a summary that will do it justice without giving too much away. Suffice to say that you are guaranteed a novel examining the more obscure psychological facets of serial killers (the author studied law and criminal psychology before he turned to screenwriting and crime fiction). The constant shift in narrative and jumps in time may confuse readers for the first 80 pages or so, but once the connection between the different characters becomes more obvious the story grips, and you will find yourself reading this book until the wee hours of the morning despite its length. The ending was quite a surprise and made me question all my previous assumptions.
And here’s a tip: don’t read the author’s note until after you have read the book.
Donato Carrisi’s previous novel The Whisperer was an international success, but some reviewers felt that the international cast of characters and the lack of a clear location – a deliberate ploy by the author – meant it lacked atmosphere. This is certainly not the case in this book. Rome is very much present in the story, although perhaps a darker, more unsettling Rome than you might expect, drowning in constant rain and fog. The other criticism of the previous book was that the English translation let it down – this one has a different translator and I did not detect any major problems.
There are so many characters making an appearance throughout the 400+ pages of the novel, that it is sometimes hard to follow them all and to empathise. However, the two main protagonists, Sandra and Marcus, are well drawn, sympathetic and despite their flaws always capable of surprising you.
Verdict? A dark, sinister thriller, in which you will detect the influence of Dan Brown, not just because of the Roman location and link to the Vatican, but because of the breakneck pace of the action and the conspiracy threat hanging over the entire tale. However, there is enough exploration of the darkest recesses of the human psyche here to please Val McDermid fans too.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars