Book Review

Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti

flowers over the inferno

An idyllic village in the alps.

A legacy of sin.

An evil lurking in the woods.

In a quiet village surrounded by the imposing Italian Alps, a series of violent assaults take place.

Police inspector and profiler Teresa Battaglia is called in when the first body is found, a naked man whose face has been disfigured and eyes gouged out. Soon more victims are discovered – all horrifically mutilated – and when a new-born baby is kidnapped, Teresa’s investigation becomes a race against the clock.

But Teresa is also fighting a battle against her own body, weighed down by age and diabetes, and her mind, once invincible and now slowly gnawing away at her memory…

I adored Teresa Battaglia from the very beginning of the novel.  It’s so unusual to read a novel about an older female detective, and I loved the originality that this brought to the story.  In her sixties, Teresa immediately comes across as being wonderfully normal.  She’s carrying a few more pounds than she is really happy with, she is diabetic, and she has recently started to notice a few other, more worrying, signs of aging.  Not that she lets any of that get in her way.  She won’t ask anyone to do anything she wouldn’t do herself, and pushes herself to, and often beyond, her own limits.  As a woman, she is sometimes looked down on by those who don’t know her, and is occasionally assumed to be less capable than her male counterparts, although those people (often men, strangely enough) are very quickly put in their place, usually with fantastically colourful language, and are unlikely to make the same mistake twice.  She comes across as a bit of a ballbreaker, and I loved her attitude.

I thought that the setting of Travenì – a fictional town in Northern Italy – was brilliantly realised.  A small town with lots of secrets, everyone looks after each other and is deeply suspicious of outsiders, despite being reliant upon tourism to bring in much needed revenue during the ski season to keep their little town alive.  The “them and us” attitude makes Teresa’s job all the more difficult, as even the local police force seem reluctant to support the investigation, although Teresa quickly makes it clear that she expects them to get behind the investigation despite their loyalties and reservations.

I found the mystery in Flowers Over the Inferno absolutely fascinating.  The discovery of the first body sets the tone for the novel and is a little gory but without being over the top.  The culprit and the motive behind the attack present a real puzzle, and Teresa’s profiling skills are put to the test as she tries to understand the person who could commit such an act.  The novel is set mostly in the present day, but with (clearly signposted) flashbacks to the late 70s.  The novel also focuses on multiple characters, rather than just Teresa and her team, and I loved the additional insight that this gives into the town and its inhabitants, which, along with the historical element, paint a fascinating picture of this small town.

Flowers Over the Inferno is a fantastically written novel, and as it’s the first in a trilogy, I’m looking forward to seeing what Teresa and her team get up to next, as I feel that Teresa has a lot more to give.

Flowers Over the Inferno will be published on 7 February by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.  Many thanks to Virginia Woolstencroft and the publisher for the early review copy.

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