Well I am a happy woman. Why? Because I have just started what looks to be a really interesting and charming series of detective novels set in Florence. In style I found it very similar to Donna Leon, in that our hero, in this case Inspector Bordelli, seems to share a warmth and humanity with his Venetian counterpart, Guido Brunetti. He doesn't appear to have a perfect Henry James reading and magnificent cook wife, but for my part I am thankful for that.
It is Florence in August and it is HOT, baking HOT. I was once in Florence in July and that was bad enough so heaven knows what August must be like, unbearable I should think if the description in Vichi's book is anything to go by.
It is 1963 so we don't have mobile phones, internet, email or any of the other hi-tech aids to solving crime. It is also less than twenty years since the end of the war in which Bordelli fought and his memories of his days during this time and his friends and companions are never far from his mind or his thoughts. He is 53, unmarried and alone, overweight and a chain smoker and with a melancholy in his heart wishing he had found a woman to love but knowing that it is probably now too late. Though there is a murder to be solved in Vichi's book it is almost incidental to the rounding out of Bordelli and his relationships with his friends and colleagues. I have found this the same in some of the Donna Leon books, not so much in her early ones but the last few have had a philosophical air, pondering on human frailties and the uselessness of it all as the wicked still flourish despite all best efforts. In Death in August an old lady is found dead in her villa. On the face of it she has died of a cardiac arrest following an asthma attack, under the bed is her bottle of medication with the top screwed on tight. There is no sign of a forced entry and nothing has been stolen or moved. So a clear cut case? Obviously not or we would not have a story and when we hear there are two venal and grasping nephews and their wives who are eager to get their hands on their aunt's villa and money, Bordelli is positive that somehow they are responsible. They have an iron clad alibi and were miles away at the time, but as all aficionados of detective fiction know, iron clad alibis are there to be broken...
So that is the plot and while Bordelli is investigating we get to know him and his background and his character. One episode is most telling and one which, for me, really endeared the Inspector to me. Biordelli has a friend Rose, an old acquaintance of his, when she was a Lady of the Night- she is on holiday and has asked him to pop into her flat and water her plants while she is away and when he finally remembers to do so, he walks in to find Canapini, a burglar known to him, in situ and about to make his exit with his haul.
"How can you possibly be so unlucky Canapini? A lady friend of mine lives here'. The burglar grew animated and ran up to Bordelli. 'I swear I didn't know Inspector.....' He looked at Bordelli with the expression of a beaten dog. 'I'm in a bad way Inspector, if I don't find something to sell today, I won't eat'
'When did you get out?'
'Yesterday Inspector, this is the first flat I've broken into'
Bordelli stood up, knees cracking and headed towards the kitchen. 'Give me a hand watering the plants.
When they leave the apartment Bordellis insistes on giving Canapini money
'But I can't accept this Inspector' He had tears in his eyes.... 'I don't want to hear about it Cana. take it or I will arrest you'.
As they leave the flat Bordelli invites him to a dinner party he is holding the next night where another ex-burglar, Botta is doing the cooking. As they leave the flat Bordelli has an idea and asks Canapini if he will come into the flat each day and water the plants as he is going to be too busy to do it.
'Thanks that takes a load off my mind. Here are the keys' Canapini rasies his hand 'I can't take them Inspector, I'm afraid I might lose them'
'Then how will you get in?' Bordelli realised at once what a silly question he had asked and only shook his head smiling.
I found this entire episode really amusing and heart warming and, sure enough, Canapini attends the dinner party the following evening where we are treated to a description of the most sumptuous meal. As in Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri, the food and the wine are of great importance. I remember posting about this a while back so tracked down my earlier thoughts and here they are.
I loved this book. It is warm, witty, wise and gentle and Inspector Bordelli is a wonderful character of whom I am already very very fond. I note another in this series is due in January 2012 and my thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for sending me this delightful book and hope that they will keep my name on the reviewers list for the next one.