Thursday, May 9, 2019

Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti

First Sentence:  There was a legend that haunted that place, the kind that clings like a persistent odor.
Inspector Massimo Marini's arrival at the crime scene of his new posting in Northern Italy is less than auspicious, particularly when he mistakes a male officer for his new superior.  In her sixties, Superintendent Teresa Battaglia is overweight, diabetic, and has other health issues, but is known to be an excellent profiler. Teresa and her team have been called to a gruesome scene:  the body of a naked man whose eyes have been removed.  Marini is determined to win his superior's respect, but can Teresa's and Marini's very different styles find the perpetrator?
The story's evocative opening, set in 1978, has a very gothic feel to it. Tuti then does an interesting segue to a child in the present, and then to the crime scene and the introduction of Marini, Teresa and the first example of her analytic skills—"She wondered why he had requested a transfer from a big city to this small provincial precinct…We run away from what scares or hurts us—or from what holds us captive."  As opposed to the usual cooperative relationship between the lead and subordinate, this begins very differently but with intent.
The story is told from four perspectives: that of Teresa, Marini, members of the group of four young children, and the killer.  Plus, in the background, is the School with its rules of "Observe, record, forget."  Each voice is very clearly differentiated and important to the story.
Tuti has a remarkable voice.  It is one which compels one and yet tempts one to draw away from it as it can resonate too clearly at times—”Solitude was an unobtrusive housemate; it took up no room and never touched anything.  It has no smell or color.  It was an absence, an entity defined in contrast to its opposite.  Yet it existed; it was the force that made Teresa's cup of chamomile tea shake on its saucer on those nights when sleep refused to come to her rescue." It is fascinating watching Teresa build her profile while training Marini—"Criminology is an art. … It's not magic; it's interpretation.  Probability, statistics.  Never certainty."  Teresa is truly a complex, compelling character.
Beyond the story being a suspenseful mystery, the plot touches on relevant and important themes.  Among them is the importance of compassionate and empathetic touch along with the instinct to nurture which is contrasted with man's unfathomable ability for cruelty. Yet there are still nice touches of humor—"Ed Kemper would dissect the bodies of his victims to play around with their internal organs."  "Do you mind if I throw up?"  "Not all over my evidence, Inspector."  When one realizes the motive, it's someone one wouldn't expect.  After all, one never expects that learning about the killer can break one's heart.
"Flowers Over the Inferno" is an incredible book which will be on my "Best of 2019" list.  It is one which touches on every emotion and leaves a mark on one's soul.  It stays with one long after the final page and leaves one wanting more.  How wonderful to know this is the first of a trilogy.

FLOWERS OVER THE INFERNO (PolProc-Super. Teresa Battaglia-Italy-Contemp) – EX
      Tuti, Ilaria – 1st book
      SOHO – April 2019


  1. I love it that the protagonist of this series isn't a young beautiful/handsome sleuth who's in excellent health, etc... Those of us who are no longer - erm - twenty really do like seeing that in today's books... I'm very glad you enjoyed this so well.

    1. I did, too. I hate making comparisons, but she is something of an Italian Vera...but not. I really did love it.