Death in August – Marco Vichi

Title – Death in August

Author – Marco Vichi

Published – 2002 (UK translation 2011)

Genre – Crime fiction

A long time fan of Italian crime fiction, and a relative newcomer to the Andrea Camilleri / Montalbano series, made this first translation in the Bordelli series seem like a natural addition to my reading pile. Not only that but I had also heard positive things on crime fiction blog Milo’s Rambles.

Florence, summer 1963. Inspector Bordelli is one of the few policemen left in the deserted city. He spends his days on routine work, and his nights tormented by the heat and mosquitoes.

Suddenly one night, a telephone call gives him a new sense of purpose: the suspected death of a wealthy Signora. Bordelli rushes to her hilltop villa, and picks the locks. The old woman is lying on her bed – apparently killed by an asthma attack, though her medicine has been left untouched.

With the help of his young protégé, the victim’s eccentric brother, and a semi-retired petty thief, the inspector begins a murder investigation. Each suspect has a solid alibi, but there is something that doesn’t quite add up . . .

This is gentle crime fiction, harking back to classics like Agatha Christie. No gratuitous violence, no swearing, and no car chases. So if you need all or any of the above then this probably isn’t the book for you. Instead you have a death which doesn’t even, at first glance, appear to be suspicious. When the investigation into the murder does get underway there’s only a short list of suspects who have a motive, but seemingly not an opportunity.  Above all it is the puzzle of the who and the how that are at the heart of the story. And for this we have the company of Bordelli, an old-fashioned (this is set in 1963 after all) chain-smoking police Inspector.

Bordelli has taken a young policeman under his wing and between them they set about solving the mystery. They’re aided by an odd group of Bordelli’s friends, including an ex-convict and a petty thief. This does seem to give Bordelli the opportunity for some rather long rambling reminiscences about his childhood and his service during the war.  

Nevertheless they manage to solve the mystery, and without the aid of mobile phones, the internet or guns. In fact Bordelli has a “eureka” moment when it all slots into place. So will you get there before he does?

The book felt quite familiar, as if I was reading something from the Camilleri / Montalbano series, and I wasn’t surprised to see that the same translator (Stephen Sartarelli) had worked on both. This certainly explains the similarity of the language between the two authors.

I think my disappointment with this book was how little Florence featured in the story. Part of my enjoyment in reading books set in foreign climes is their ability to transport you to somewhere more exotic, but although there was the heat and oppression of a summer in Florence, there was very little mention made of the city itself.

Nevertheless I’ll be looking out for the next translation in the series.

Score – 3/5

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