In this debut thriller, an inspector’s dual murder cases may be connected to an unidentified serial killer’s spree from 20 years ago.
Just days away from Christmas in 2009, Inspector Andrea Pantaleo of the murder squad in Bari, Italy, has two new cases on his desk. One is the mutilated body of an unknown woman, with indications of torture and rape; the other is a gangland-style shooting of three men. In the novel’s concurrent plot, events beginning in 1960 ultimately lead to the 1988 investigation of the murder of Marta Villoresi in Genoa. Inspector Gianrico Salvemini works this case, which involves two key pieces of evidence the killer has intentionally left behind: a cassette tape and a two-word anagram. The tape contains audio of Marta’s brutal murder, ending with the soundtrack to the 1975 Italian horror film Profondo Rosso (Deep Red). Salvemini pinpoints and arrests a suspect, but a second homicide, with another tape and the same anagram, could mean he has the wrong man. More murders ensue and, though they eventually stop, remain unsolved by 2009. Pantaleo, however, has evidence that links his two cases with Marta’s murder by the ’88 serial killer, who may once again be active. Originally published in Italian, Calabrese’s series opener introduces a curious inspector who appears in later volumes. Short-tempered Pantaleo is unlikable, physically assaulting a parking attendant with little provocation. But there’s a softer side, as he fawns over his grandmother, who raised him until he was 10 years old (when her health deteriorated). The engrossing 1988 plot, at over a third of the book’s length, is fully fleshed out, meticulously following Salvemini’s investigation. Descriptions of murders from both eras—a victim’s perspective as well as forensics examinations—are graphic and harrowing. This may be due to Thompson’s translation: The English-language prose, though comprehensible, is unadorned and cold. Despite Pantaleo’s affinity for Sherlock Holmes, the inspector reaches a solution primarily through fortuity and others finding links between the cases.
A mystery that aptly covers two time periods, fronted by an offbeat protagonist.