Giuttari, Michele - 'The Black Rose of Florence' (translated by Howard Curtis)
"This city..." Chief Superintendent Michele Ferrara started to say, then let the phrase fade away and went back to chomping on the Toscano cigar clamped between his lips, still unlit. He was wearing a blue linen suit, sky-blue shirt and matching tie. At nine this morning he was supposed to be seeing the Commissioner to update him on the narcotics operation currently in progress. Instead of which, here he was, in the New Chapels of Rest at the Careggi Hospital.
In the mortuary chapel Chief Superintendent Michele Ferrara stares down into a coffin at the neat corpse of an eighty-year-old woman in repose. Someone has carved a precise wound between her eyes and in the centre of her forehead. How? Why? Ferrara is growing tired of Florence. Later he is called back to the chapel by the forensics team. Beneath the feet of the corpse they have found ash, specifically tobacco ash and quite probably cigar tobacco. Is this a personal message for the cigar-smoking Ferrara? A threat? He has been the subject of a murder attempt before with his high profile anti-Mafia work and this is something else to bear in mind amidst the welter of paperwork that is modern-day policing. When he finally arrives home that evening Ferrara finds his German-born wife Petra distraught at an anonymous threatening letter that has been pushed through the letterbox. Perhaps it is not surprising that he considers his anti-Mafia work a possible source of threat, but then he remembers the notorious murder case he worked on some years before, "The Monster of Florence". He had been convinced that someone high-up had been pulling strings during that case. Could these current threats be something to do with the "Monster"? A few days later the body of a young woman is found, lying on her bed with arms outstretched and cuffed to the bed-head; strangled, naked and with a black rose placed on her thighs. Was this a sex game gone wrong? Or perhaps something more sinister, connected to the desecrated body in the Chapel. Perhaps the rumours of satanic practises in Florence and its surrounding countryside are true.
THE BLACK ROSE OF FLORENCE is the fifth in Sicilian born Michele Giuttari crime series featuring Police Superintendent Michele Ferrara and is translated from the Italian by award-winning British translator Howard Curtis. Giuttari was Head of the Florence Police from 1995-2003 and as such was responsible for jailing several key Mafia figures. So there can be no doubt that Giuttari's own career experiences inform the plotting and detail of his crime-writing and in this sense bring a firm foundation to the story. The writing is indeed detailed in its precise descriptions. But the end result has more the flavour of a police procedural "whodunnit" set in modern-day Italy than a suspenseful thriller involving Satanism, corruption and betrayal. There are techniques in Giuttari's writing that one feels should build suspense such as the short chapters - each with scene and character changes; some characters remaining unnamed simply identified as "he" or "she" and we see the action from their point of view. But THE BLACK ROSE OF FLORENCE does have a large cast of characters and I found this technique confusing rather than thrilling; it became an irritant and distanced me from the characters, slowing the pace and reducing my involvement. Giuttari's grasp of detail is assured but for me it as at the expense of the overall structure and feel of the book. This is not a writing style for me, though I hung on there in order to find out "whodunnit". But - if you favour authenticity of description and process over thrills and spills - then a Florentine setting, insight into the frustrations of police work and the suggestion of a corrupt elite's involvement in Satanism may well mean that this book will be one for you to enjoy.
Lynn Harvey, England