Death In The Piazza

Here’s a nice twist on the tried and true police procedural murder mystery. It all happens in Rome. And part of the mystery is whether or not a murder has even been committed. Oh, there’s a dead body to be sure. But was it murder? Or simply death by misadventure. For a majority of the novel, you really don’t know. But there’s more to hold your interest than just the cause of death. There’s serial muggings of foreign tourists, Mafia protection racket hit and runs, and enough forgeries of artistic masterpieces to give you a graduate level education in Italian art.

The novel is entitled The Fatal Touch. Which frankly, seems a rather strained attempt at symbolism for a story that doesn’t really need it. The author, Conor Fitzgerald, has fashioned an intriguing matrix of plot, subplots, major and minor characters, and events both present and past to keep readers eagerly engaged. Let’s start with the plot.

Muggings of tourists are going on in a neighborhood of Rome where they shouldn’t be going on. A body is found in a nearby piazza that may or may not have been murdered. It may or may not have been connected to the muggings. The victim was not a tourist however. He was an expat Irish artist not particularly well thought of by those who thought of him at all. The Rome police proceed to conduct an investigation as they normally would. But quickly, normalcy is interrupted by the Carabinieri,the national military police of Italy. They want the city police to drop the investigation. They seem content to label the artist’s death an accident. He got drunk. He fell down. He hit his head. He died. Case closed as far as the Carabinieri is concerned. But as is usually the case in novels such as these, the case is far from closed to the primary investigating officer, Commissioner Alec Blume.

Blume is an American who lives and works for the local police in Rome. He’s had run-ins with the Carabinieri in the past, and as you might expect, he’s less than thrilled to be told to step down. As the story unfolds, we meet a variety of his staff who could make up the personnel files of any police drama in any city. While believably characterized, they’re not as interesting as the potential suspects they come in contact with. An obscenely obese Carabinieri Colonel, an aging hippie bank teller, a beautiful young receptionist with a penchant for telling lies, a somewhat shady art gallery owner and more. However the most interesting character in the entire novel is the dead body. An unrepentant Irish artist given to wild outbursts of temper, immense consumption of alcohol, and an exceptional talent for rationalization and forgery.

This stew of characters simmers along at a reasonable rate with little action but plenty of plot twists and turns. Near the climax, there is gunfire, dog bites, conflagrations and surprising revelations. The extended ending is a little overcooked for my taste, but if you have an appetite for a good old-fashioned mystery in an art-filled historic locale, check out The Fatal Touch. The Fiction Fortune Hunter did and came away satisfied.

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