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by Ilaria Tuti and Ekin Oklap, trans.
Soho, April 2019
360 pages
ISBN: 1641290684

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Set in a small village in the Italian Alps, FLOWERS OVER THE INFERNO could be a gentle village cozy. It could be a charming bit of escapism to a delightful destination. It is neither. The village of Traveni may be delightful with its river and waterfall and forests and mountains, but from the outset, it is painted as a dark, insular place where the locals merely tolerate tourists and actively hinder a murder investigation, even when those being killed are some of their own. In addition to the darkness of the setting, the crimes Ilaria Tuti imagines are also dark—both the murders themselves and the crime that instigates them.

The bright spot in the novel is Teresa Battaglia, the detective called in from the city to investigate the crimes. Teresa is aging, overweight, and diabetic, but she's also tough enough to stand up to all obstacles and empathetic enough to connect with those she's there to help. Deepening her character, and increasing the overall tension in the novel, is the fact that Teresa begins to realize that she's experiencing the onset of Alzheimer's. Being an expert in psychological profiling and understanding how the mind works, Teresa is particularly frightened by the symptoms she recognizes in herself. Watching Teresa's struggles with both her mind and the challenges of the case as well as her intelligence and understanding of humanity keeps the reader engaged and turning the pages.

The crimes themselves are also page-turning worthy, and they affect not only characters in the present but, as Teresa discovers, they reach back into a past that the villagers would rather not have too closely examined. Tuti takes the reader back and forth between time periods, teasing with insights that are revealed in pieces, both past and present, until they come together as a whole. This enables the reader to get to the solution a little ahead of Teresa and her team, but the who and why of the mystery aren't the only things to be solved. By the end, there's the question of how Teresa will deal with what she discovers, and learning that becomes as intriguing as the actual solving of the crimes. One of the reveal scenes is a little awkward, but overall, Tuti handles all the threads she's been drawing together well, giving the reader a satisfying ending.

FLOWERS OVER THE INFERNO is the first in a trilogy featuring Teresa Battaglia, and she's certainly a strong enough character to carry that off. And with all that's happening in her life and in that of her young assistant Massimo Marini, further novels promise both interesting mysteries and equally interesting character development.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, May 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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