Mystery set in the Italian Alps (.. a rural inferno of primordial allure..)

10th April 2019

Flowers over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti, novel set in the Italian Alps. Translated by Ekin Oklap.

“.. a rural inferno of primordial allure”

Superintendant Teresa Battaglia is in (fictional) Travenì, in the Italian Alps, investigating the murder of a local man, whose body is laid out in a very precise manner with his eyes ripped out. A carefully crafted effigy lies nearby. Inspector Massimo Marini joins her in the investigation, but from the outset he is caught on the back foot. She is a formidable woman who takes no hostages, a person of great capabilities and investigating competency. She has vulnerabilities both physical and mental that plague her but are well concealed. The stage is set for sparring but ultimately a fairly respectful work relationship between the two police officers develops.

This is a dual timeline novel. It flips back to Austria (just across the border) in 1978, describing a foreboding school where “observe, record, forget” is the mantra for all employees. The nature of the untoward practises in the school are hinted at, rows of cots in rooms containing…. humans? How does that link to the investigation in Travenì.

In the present day Lucia, Diego, Mathias and Oliver are a young friendship group from the local school and these children often meet in the surrounding countryside to thrash out their problems and find mutual support. It is the setting of the Italian Alps, the imposing and impossibly hostile mountains in Winter that govern local life and impede the investigation process. Swirling mists, snow and inhospitable terrain, with mines and caves, really add mystery and suspense to the narrative. There is much talk of ghosts and ghouls spotted amongst the trees, mysterious otherworldly creatures haunting the nebulous recesses that make themselves known to these children.

Teresa is clear that the first murder is only the start of a killing spree – all her experience tells her this – and there is plenty of psychological musing, including Freud’s Alpha and Omega. Understanding the killing motivation is key to tracing the killer. The locals are known to look after their own, it is part and parcel of an Alpine community to maintain cohesion. Superintendant Battaglia has to navigate her way through strongly held beliefs, prejudice and traditions.

During the festival of Krampus (a figure that is half goat, half demon that rampages through the village punishing children, held in the run up to Christmas with masked demons threading their way through festive crowds), a baby is taken and Superintendant Battaglia knows that the situation is becoming critical.

This is a very engaging and well thought-out novel.

Setting is very strong and as the author says in the Author’s Note: “The mountains, the seasons, the smells, the colours of nature have been part of my life since I was a child, and it was inevitable that they should become the backdrop of this story...” I read this whilst in the Alps and very much enjoyed the dramatic setting all around, reflected in this novel. She says of Flowers Over The Inferno that it is “a love letter to my mountains”. Indeed it is!

A shout out to the translator Ekin Oklap for a great translation. This is Eurocrime at its best.

If you enjoy this kind of slow burning thriller, with a mountainous setting, then try The Village of Lost Girls by Agustín Martínez set in the Spanish Pyrenees.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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Do check out the books we already feature in the Italian Alps

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