Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti - book review: Exciting, ice-coated, chilling and thrilling

Snow-capped peaks towering over an inky black pine forest, clear rivulets sweeping nimbly round rocks and icicles, animal tracks criss-crossing a thick woodland carpet...

By Pam Norfolk
Monday, 11th February 2019, 1:08 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 3:53 am
Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti
Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti

If you are looking for a chilling murder mystery set in a landscape so majestic that it takes your breath away and fills your soul, head off to the Alps with the intriguing Detective Superintendent Teresa Battaglia, an Italian police chief who is set to give Tyneside’s Vera a run for her money.

The ageing police chief and experienced profiler – complete with serious health problems, a tough-nut exterior and a not-so-secret soft spot for the children she never had – is the curiously quirky star of a new thriller series that is now winging its way across the world.

Flowers Over the Inferno is Ilaria Tuti’s stunning and atmospheric debut novel – translated into English by the talented Ekin Olap – and the first book in the Teresa Battaglia trilogy.

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Rights for the novel, which was a top 10 bestseller on publication, have been sold in over 15 countries, making Tuti one of the most internationally successful Italian authors of recent years.

Tuti lives in Friuli, in the far north-east of Italy, and she has harnessed all the harsh, wild beauty of this mountainous region near the border with Austria for a bone-chilling story of dark crimes and hidden evils festering in a small, claustrophobic community.

In charge of digging out the truth behind a series of terrifying, ritualistic murders is the sixty-plus Teresa Battaglia, an experienced police officer weighed down by her age, failing memory and a constant battle with diabetes, but still the cleverest and most perceptive detective this side of the Alps.

Travenì is a quiet village surrounded by centuries-old woods and the imposing Italian Alps but the seeming serenity of the winter is shattered by the discovery of a body in the damp woodlands. Roberto Valent, a local man, has been found naked and left stretched out on the ground in a meticulously prepared murder scene.

But what shocks the police most is that his eyes have been gouged out and his face disfigured with someone’s bare hands.

No-nonsense police chief and experienced profiler Teresa, who has been called back from the city to take charge, recognises immediately that the ritualistic element to the murder means it’s highly likely that the killer will strike again.

Soon more victims are found, and all have been subjected to horrendous mutilations.

In tandem with her new sidekick, the young and dapper Inspector Massimo Marini, Teresa sets out to find the truth behind the ‘primitive beauty’ of this isolated Alpine village and its tight-lipped residents.

But when a newborn baby is kidnapped, Teresa’s investigation becomes a race against the clock, a tough call for a woman who is facing another, different kind of battle… a battle against her own body.

Weighed down by her years and her diabetes, Teresa fears that her ageing mind, once so sharp and invincible, is now slowly gnawing away at her memory.

With a killer who is either completely insane or a cold, careful manipulator, Teresa and Massimo have a dangerous mountain to climb…

Tuti’s fast-paced, taut and gripping thriller has more than a touch of creepy Gothic as the Alpine scenery becomes the jaw-dropping stage set for a gruesome murder mystery where nature is red in tooth and claw, and a deadly menace threatens to engulf a village with too many destructive secrets.

The battling Teresa Battaglia is the undoubted star of the show, a charming enigma who fills the pages with her compassion, good sense, empathy and tenacity but who can put a person in their place with either a look or a word.

Her crusty sarcasm and razor sharpness hides a lonely, fast-ageing woman who refuses to surrender to her mental and physical vulnerabilities and instead uses every ounce of her determination and inner strength to fight on.

Teresa’s co-star is the landscape that Ilaria Tuti loves… a place she describes as ‘generous’ but ‘demanding,’ and ‘a frozen kingdom of silence in deep winter, but also a world of warm, breathing life.’

Exciting, ice-coated, chilling and thrilling, Flowers Over the Inferno welcomes readers to the deepest, darkest shades of Italian Noir.

(W&N, hardback, £14.99)