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Death and the Olive Grove by Marco Vichi, translated by Stephen Sartarelli

This is the second of Vichi’s novels featuring Inspector Bordelli of the Florentine police.  I’ve yet to read the first, but I don’t think it really mattered. It was first published in Italian in 2003, the English translation was published this year.

When I started reading the book, I was initially worried that it might seem a little similar to Andrea Camilleri’s excellent Inspector Montalbano stories. Stephen Sartarelli has translated both and his style is recognisable in these pages.

Outwardly, although the Italian locations are different, Bordelli has some similarities with Montalbano too, being a single policeman who loves his food and drink. However, some pages in, (there are no chapters, only section breaks), Bordelli was beginning to show a personality of his own, and I really began to enjoy the novel.

Set in the 1960s, this is the era before technology revolutionised forensics. When a young girl is brutally murdered, the scene of the crime is overrun with onlookers, the paparazzi aren’t so new! No sooner than Bordelli and his young sidekick Piras have one murder on their hands, another happens when Casimiro, a dwarf who lives on the edges of Florence’s criminal fraternity, is killed. Casimiro had been Bordelli’s friend, and he vows to find his killer – they had been investigating some fishy goings on together in the grounds of a villa in Fiesole, a town in the Florentine hills.  The villa’s occupant, a German baron, is notable by his absence.  Things will get worse yet…

Bordelli is in his fifties, he’s unmarried, gruff, and accompanied by a personal fug of cigarette smoke everywhere he goes. His methods of detecting are largely to sit and smoke until inspiration hits. He agonises over the murders though, they keep him up at night; added to which he keeps thinking back to the war – when he was a Commander in the part of the San Marco marine battalion that turned and fought for the Allies against the Germans. He was a man of action, a fearsome shot, looked up to by his men which all gives him an added gravitas.  The after effects of the war still resonate from time to time in this part of northern Italy.

When he needs comfort though, he often ends up at Rosa’s flat.  She used to be a prostitute, and they’re old friends, and have a cosy relationship – why she’s knitting him a pullover.  If I had one quibble, it would be that, save for the wartime remnants, occasional musical references and the lack of mobile phones, it didn’t feel very like the 1960s to me – the traditional Italian café culture not having changed so much over the years.

Like all good Italian detectives, he has a healthy disrespect for authority, and goes his own way as much as possible. I liked him a lot and will read more, he needs to give up smoking though – but I forgot – it’s the 1960s!  (8/10)

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I received a review copy through Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Death and the Olive Grove (Inspector Bordelli 2) by Marco Vichi. Pub Hodder & Stoughton. Hdbk, 272 pages. Paperback due out 26 April.
Death in August (Inspector Bordelli 1) by Marco Vichi
The Shape of Water (Montalbano 1) by Andrea Camilleri

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