Most of the crime fiction I read these days features a trail of horrific bloodthirsty crimes committed by serial killers where the body count and pace increase crescendo the further you get into the book. Therefore, reading Marco Vichi's Death in August - more reminiscent of an old-fashioned Agatha Christie-esque whodunnit than a gory crime novel - seemed too slow and, dare I say it, at times boring.
In its defence, the slow pace is perfectly suited to the setting in 1960's Florence where even the locals are having trouble dealing with the heat. The annoyingly slow pace (for reader and protagonists alike) in the early stages of the investigation, when the police are trying to piece together the small bits of evidence and find themselves a suspect, is more realistic than the adrenalin-fuelled modern day crime novels and TV shows.
But as a reader, I was frustrated to have the sense that I wasn't getting anywhere in the book. It's only 200 pages long so I thought I'd race through it in no time at all but I struggled to reach the end. I think one problem is the total lack of chapters or breaks in the text, which means that there are no cliffhangers or convenient places to read on to before turning out the light and going to sleep. It was always just a case of reading until I got tired then stopping wherever I was, never knowing if I was literally a couple of paragraphs away from some big lightbulb moment.
Many of the characters, in particular the victim and the chief suspects, seem too one-dimensional and bland so I couldn't muster up any real emotion for them, which left me feeling somewhat distant from and indifferent to the narrative. I did enjoy the numerous recollections of war stories woven into the plot, which offer great food for thought on humanity and wartime friends and enemies.
This is the first novel in a series of Inspector Bordelli Mysteries so I think the author may have intentionally chosen to slow down the pace in order to really develop the personality of the central character - his idiosyncratic attitude to petty criminals, his dubious (not to mention precocious !) sexual play with his maid when he was a young child and his experiences, still fresh in his mind, of the war all create an interesting, multi-faceted persona who is strong enough to support a sequel or three.
I just hope that in the follow-up, the Florence temperatures have dropped slightly, leading to less lethargy in the novel !
star rating : 3/5
RRP : £7.99 (but only £4.89 on amazon)
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (1 Sep 2011)
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