Source: Review copy
Publication: Weidenfeld and Nicolson on 7th February 2019
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…
In the beautiful, if somewhat remote, small village of Traveni in the Friulian mountains, a remote community is developing a skiing resort, their last hope for economic survival.
Into this enclosed village, quiet, beautiful, surrounded by pristine snow comes unimaginable horror. A corpse is found with its eyes missing; then a body minus his ears and nose, seemingly bitten off.
Chief Inspector Teresa Battaglia and her team are sent in to investigate though this insular community is not welcoming to strangers, whatever there reason for being there.
Now I want to say a word or two here about Teresa Battaglia. She is not your usual protagonist. In her sixties (like me); her body beginning to fail her (like mine); abrasive coupled with a caustic tongue – the pain and sometimes a difficult life history will do that to you – she is clearly very much appreciated by her team. For the moment though, her brain is razor sharp and her wits are very much about her. Teresa is also an excellent profiler, able to take a few clues and work them into an analysis of the criminal profile, something that is hugely helpful in this case.
She is a strong and tenacious woman who finds herself dealing with getting older; loneliness and a future that looks increasingly precarious. Battaglia is reminiscent of Ann Cleeves Vera, but with added pain.
Inspector Massimo Martini is the new arrival to Teresa’s team, but he hasn’t been warned what to expect and from the moment he arrives and let’s his somewhat sexist expectations take centre stage, it is clear that he’s going to have to get a grip if he’s to stay in this team.
Into this beautiful quiet and insular community comes violence that turns the white snow blood red. Alongside the contemporary telling of this somewhat gothic tale, we are offered snippets of events from a strange hospital in 1978, though to what end is less than clear until the denouement of the novel. The investigation will need to delve into the past in order to understand the events of the present.
Flowers Over The Inferno is a true psychological thriller. This killer differs from the norm being both brutal and violent. His actions seem impulsive, yet he is able to disappear without trace, suggesting clever planning. Battaglia puts herself in the position of understanding the monsters through her profiling and finding clues where others would not think to look. It is this empathetic approach that provides the moral compass that makes this book more than just another thriller.
This is a complex and very sad investigation, made all the more awful by the knowledge that some of it is based on fact. Tuti’s plotting works on two different temporal levels without disturbing the rhythm of the narration. Tuti very clearly demonstrates the way in which psychological violence can be even more brutal and aberrant than physical violence. Her writing is crisp and sharp, her dialogue authentic and her characters feel more natural as a result.
Flowers Over the Inferno is a well told thriller where the complexity of the characters captures the reader’s imagination. Tuti is a writer who can tell a story of horror and brutality yet evoke sympathy and emotional resonance in her readers, which is never an easy task.
Verdict: A welcome new addition to the crime protagonists list. Teresa Battaglia is a woman after my own heart and I really look forward to her second outing,
ILARIA TUTI lives in Friuli, in the far north-eastern part of Italy. FLOWERS OVER THE INFERNO, her debut novel and the first book in the Teresa Battaglia trilogy, was a top 10 bestseller on publication and the biggest debut of 2018 in Italy.