Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Black Rose of Florence, by Michele Giuttari

Little, Brown, 2012 (UK)
originally published as Le rose nere di firenze, 2010
translated by Howard Curtis
450 pp
Hardcover ed.

I've now  come to the fifth and most current of Giuttari's Michele Ferrara books published in English, The Black Rose of Florence.

Strange things are happening in Florence, the first of which is that someone has taken a knife to the face of a dead woman awaiting her funeral. When the police get involved, they discover tobacco leaves under the body -- which Michele Ferrara interprets as a message aimed at himself.  After all, he did just return from Rome after being on temporary assignment in the Anti-Mafia Investigation Department, a measure intended to get him out of Florence after just barely missing being killed in a bombing attack.  Now he's back, and Florence, "seemed to be doing everything it could to put him off staying."  His wife, Petra, has long been trying to convince her husband that it may be time to retire; he isn't quite ready.  After the strange incident with the dead body, Ferrara begins to wonder if it could possibly be the work of satanists who hold their black masses in "deconsecrated churches." While trying to puzzle out this mess, and a shooting in the Via di Novoli,  the body of young Giovanna Innocenti, 24,  is discovered in her home -- naked, bound to her bed with handcuffs, with an artificial black rose between her legs.  Ferrara, who declares that "this was all very unusual," now has his work cut out for him.  The girl's family seems very indifferent toward her death and all but refuse to cooperate with police; in the meantime, the police department  is under a great deal of pressure when the press gets hold of the story.  Anonymous notes speaking of "the hooded ones" sent to Ferrara seem to hint at some sort of  secret society behind the weirdness -- but is it really a group of Satanic worshippers, or perhaps Freemasons, or are there others he doesn't even know about? When others start to die, Ferrara knows there's no time to lose.

The Black Rose of Florence is a police procedural, and as far as the work the cops put in to solve these strange crimes, it's pretty good -- Giutarri's background and knowledge shine through here.  But far from being the "masterpiece of detective fiction" as noted on the blurb, it's filled with Giuttari's standard clichéd elements I've discovered in pretty much all of his novels:  the higher-ups who run things yet remain clueless about exactly what police work entails, the lack of cooperation between the various law-enforcement agencies in Italy,  corruption at the highest levels, conspiracies, and the true powers behind the powers who pull all the strings in the country.   I have to say that I wondered when Giuttari's fascination with Satanists (à la the real-life Monster of Florence case) was going to appear in novelized form, and here it is.   But then again, he has flirted with the secret society aspects in some of his other books -- here it's just become a bit more blatant, detracting from the  good scenes where the policemen are doing their jobs. I don't understand  why, with his experience as a cop, he feels he has to sensationalize these crimes and make them larger than life when he could have played it absolutely straight and done a better job.

Maybe it's just me, because so many other readers enjoyed this book, but I thought it was more like something in the sensational thriller range (the ones I tend to skip over) rather than a "masterpiece of detective fiction." On the other hand, waiting to see how it all was going to play out kept me reading, so that's a good thing. I will probably read the next one when it's translated and published, but let's just say that there are better Italian crime-fiction novelists out there.

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