Fitzgerald, Conor - 'The Fatal Touch'
THE FATAL TOUCH is the second in a series of police procedurals by Conor Fitzgerald. Set in Rome, this series features US born Italian police commissioner Alec Blume and his team, principally Caterina Mattiola, newly transferred from the Immigration division.
An elderly Irish artist, Treacy, has been found dead late one night in a city square, as a result of what looks very much like a botched mugging; there has been a spate of recent muggings of wealthy foreign tourists. When Blume visits Treacy's home, he finds some interesting documents: there are biographical notebooks, several paintings and various tools of the forgers' trade. As Blume's late parents were art history experts, Blume realise the implications of what he has found, and starts to suspect a more sinister explanation for Treacy's death. These suspicions are confirmed when a corrupt Carabinieri officer, the sinister Colonel Farinelli of the Heritage division, starts to take an unhealthy interest in Treacy's home and art gallery. Blume takes the precaution of removing Treacy's notebooks, to study in private together with his new assistant, single mother Caterina, away from Farinelli's prying eyes. Farinelli has personal reasons to want the notebooks; many years ago Farinelli was involved in selling a painting faked by Treacy to the Mafia, and so is keen to withhold this information both from the authorities and the Mafia, but is this enough to explain Farinelli's interference in the police investigation? Blume and Caterina carry on digging into Treacy's life and death despite Farinelli's threats, placing themselves in considerable peril.
Characterisation and location are huge strengths of THE FATAL TOUCH. Blume is an appealing hero, a convincing outsider in Italy and amongst his fellow officers, and Fitzgerald shows a wicked wit in showing Blume's klutz-like tendencies despite his evident intelligence as an investigator. The character of Caterina is particularly strongly drawn; Fitzgerald has a surprisingly sensitive insight into the personal and professional challenges faced by a young single mother in a police career, both in terms of the practicalities of juggling work and childcare, and in terms of difficulties gaining respect of older, more chauvinistic colleagues. The sections of Treacy's diaries that appear in the novel are also well written, and help gain some sympathy for a largely unsympathetic character. However I felt that although he is clearly highly knowledgeable about art and art history, Fitzgerald overdid the artistic element of the novel. There was a little too much detail about art forgery techniques given, and I found the treasure hunt element of the novel long-winded and unrealistic. By contrast, I found the accounts of the office politics in Blume's team, and the other crimes dealt with by the team, eg a hit and run by junior gangsters and the tourist muggings far more interesting.
THE FATAL TOUCH has many of the ingredients of a potentially excellent series, with great characterisation and sense of location, and well controlled plotting, but I felt this particular volume in the series was slightly disappointing, rather less than the sum of its parts.
Read another review of THE FATAL TOUCH.
Laura Root, England
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