Written by Sandrone Dazieri — If you missed this pacy Italian thriller when it came out in hardback earlier this year, now is your chance to catch up with it in paperback. This is crime fiction which successfully blends the serial killer, police chase and conspiracy theory subgenres, as well as subverting expectations by introducing a hard-nosed policewoman and a sensitive private investigator.
A family goes on a picnic in the Vivaro mountain meadows just outside Rome, but their idyll ends in tragedy. The woman is murdered and the six-year-old boy goes missing. The police arrest the husband and wait for him to confess. Needless to say, something is not quite right about the case and the chief of the major crimes unit gives his deputy Colomba Caselli a chance to get involved the investigation.
Colomba is currently on leave and somewhat disgraced following her failure to apprehend a terrorist, which resulted in a tragic event, generally referred to as ‘the Disaster’. However, her boss wants her to work with the unofficial but brilliant investigator Dante Torre. Dante was a childhood victim of a masked kidnapper known as ‘the Father’, who kept him trapped in a concrete silo for many years. Dante never really believed that the man convicted of those crimes was his abductor, and he seems to be proved right now. There are signs that this new kidnapping could be the work of the Father, that he is sending coded messages to Dante, and looking forward to a reunion.
The two investigators are both wary and traumatised by their past experiences, yet they soon settle into a supportive partnership, despite their very different outlooks on life. Strait-laced and stubborn Colomba is always ready to burst into action to avenge the wrongs of society, while claustrophobic Dante relies more on the powers of observation and is more ambiguous about good and evil. The clues become more and more bizarre, the plot thickens and the two partners find themselves on the run from both a psychopathic killer and the forces of law and order.
The topics of kidnapping and imprisonment, as well as serial killing, are indeed disturbing, but the author skilfully avoids graphic descriptions of torture. It is a well structured story too, though towards the end the layers upon layers of additional plot complications are unnecessary.
What this book does get right though is its refreshing new take on the thriller format. It never feels formulaic or repetitive. The intelligent back-and-forth, no-nonsense banter between the two investigators is a delight, while the mutual suspicion turning into protectiveness feels entirely natural, not at all a will-they-won’t-they romantic bolt-on to an already complex plot. The explosive interactions with other members of the police or with friends and neighbours gives an Italian flavour to the proceedings, with more than a hint of the political nature of policing in that country and the ever-present fear of corruption.
In short, a wowser of a tale, that will keep you turning just one more page, reading just one more chapter. I can’t wait to see what Colomba and Dante will be up to next!
Simon & Schuster
CFL Rating: 4 Stars