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For any writer, the backdrop to their crime is of huge importance and to all intents and purposes is almost another character. Certainly a landscape, whether that’s urban or rural can dictate the outcome and even colour the crime itself. I am working on my latest book which I hope to publish in April 2013 set in St Albans, Hertfordshire in the UK which begins like this:
A blindfold heightened Justitia’s sense of vulnerability, as did the men’s silence and their anonymity. She suppressed a shiver but fear remained fused with her thoughts throughout the car journey. An hour later she allowed herself to be led into a building; the clicking of her heels on flagstones was the only sound, the grip on her arm the only indication of another’s presence.
This set me to thinking how places form such a brilliant backdrop to so much of detective fiction I have read. A while back The Independent even published their list of holiday destinations with recommended associated crime novels. One suggestion was Arnaldur Indridason. His Inspector Erlendur novels exude the bleak setting, social realism and gentle pacing we associate with Scandinavian noir for a vacation in Reykjavik and suggested ‘Tainted Blood’ (Vintage) as a good example of his oeuvre
Another location was Glasgow. Denise Mina, is very different from Ian Rankin and she has written two crime series set in this Scottish city . The Garnethill Trilogy, featuring ex-psychiatric patient Maureen O’Donnell, is as grimly realistic as it is taut. ‘Garnethill’ (Bantam)
However, my destination of choice for this blog is Italy and my first recommendation is The Savage Garden’ by Mark Mills. Readers who enjoy intrigue and mystery, blood and art history will find this Tuscan crime thriller riveting. There is something shocking about despoiling such a beautiful landscape somehow!
The synopsis was interesting: ‘Behind a Tuscan villa lies a Renaissance garden of enchanting beauty. Within the grottoes, pagan statues and all the classic inscriptions there is a secret message.’ Mills cleverly combines our passion with all things Italian with something much darker and produces a complex narrative which puts me in mind of the complexity of a high quality wine.
Who can be left unmoved when a cover shouts out: ‘Uncover stories of love, revenge and murder, separated by 400 years?’ It’s very difficult and is certainly testimony to the power of sales copy!
This book was recommended by Richard and Judy and really has received some very warm reviews. I was certainly riveted by that visceral sense of loss and yearning which bubbled up throughout the novel.
The main character, Adam developed as the story unfolded. He actually begins to appreciate and understand his own motivations as he adopts the role of amateur sleuth. Mills has carefully woven exploration of character and slight bent towards depression successfully and this novel therefore is on the subtle side.
I did enjoy the juxtaposition of the 16th century and the 1950s which was masterfully achieved. In the Tuscan hills Adam Strickland must study the Renaissance garden for a thesis which was built by an eminent banker from Florence, who constructs this garden as a paean to his young wife who died aged 25 in 1548. It is detailed and stuffed full of Renaissance references and I was fascinated with how Mills dealt with the concept of the garden.
The metaphor of a garden is common in literature. It appears in the Bible, Chaucer or Austen. Garden walls can protect, repress or suggest possibilities just over the perimeter.
Don’t you just love when there are discordant elements in paradise?
Another of my recommendations in an Italian vein is Andrea Camilleri’s The Shape of Water published by Picador.
Inspector Salvo Montalbano works in Sicily and therefore the backdrop is set for a feast of food and corruption. He handles the discovery of a body with aplomb and we get to walk with him over what was once rolling hills grazed by goats. The local engineer is discovered in flagrante but things are not how they seem – of course they aren’t.
The author really works in the landscape and the typical Sicilian approach to telling the truth, sex, ambition and food. Certainly the sense of place is vivid and there is a neat touch of humour too. The style is witty but has a cut like a sharpened knife and as Montalbano goes about his work the prose too is stripped bare.
As Montalbano explores the victim’s life we meet a host of characters who belong in this fascinating place. This is one of a series and is quite old now, having been first published in 1994.
Well, the weather in Portugal is very different from Sicily this morning, it is pouring with rain and I am looking out at heavy cloud over the mountains. Still, it’s just the kind of day to get down to my writing.
See you soon.