If you don’t believe in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder you might be inclined to suspect Marco Vichi’s Inspector Bordelli is eventually going to run out of wartime recollections to obsess over. On the other hand, when Death in Sardinia opens the war has been over for more than twenty years, and Bordelli’s still getting regular flashbacks, so if he hasn’t run out of them yet it’s not likely to happen any time soon.
Still, to keep a series moving you need new elements, and I can’t help thinking Vichi is setting things up rather nicely for the next couple of years with some of the sideline issues in this story set in Florence and Sardinia in December 1965 when the body of a loan-shark is found in his Florentine apartment with a pair of scissors sticking out of his neck.
At the same time his offsider Piras is recuperating after serious gunshot wounds at home in Sardinia and is faced with the apparent suicide of a family friend, which seems fairly straightforward and obvious until Piras notes there’s no empty cartridge nearby. Suicide victims aren’t in the habit of cleaning up after themselves, therefore someone else must have done it, which leads one to suspect it wasn’t suicide.
Bordelli, as it turns out, has been on the loan shark’s case for a while, and had attempted to obtain a warrant to search his apartment for evidence of blackmail and other illegal activities, and the murder delivers the opportunity senior figures within the Florence legal system hadn’t been willing to grant him. Bordelli had gone as far as visiting his old mate the burglar cum chef in jail, suggesting they might be able to co-operate on a quiet break and enter once Botta’s current spell inside has finished.
The murder rules that out, but delivers Botta into a situation where he can cook a French Christmas dinner for Bordelli and friends.
Now, with the loan shark dead and Bordelli assigned to the case he can search the premises to his heart’s content, musing all the while that if he’d been given the search warrant he originally asked for the victim might still be alive. Bordelli would, as far as he’s concerned, found something that would have sufficed to take Totuccio Badalamenti out of circulation, which would, in turn, have prevented the killer from getting at him.
Badalamenti’s apartment has been ransacked, but it’s obvious that whoever did it wasn’t as thorough as he could have been. Conducting his own rather more thorough search Bordelli finds a bundle of photographs featuring an attractive girl apparently named Marisa (that’s the name written on the back of each of them) in a variety of provocative poses behind a framed picture. He also locates the hidey hole where Badalamenti was wont to conceal the promissory notes that were the basis of his loan sharking. A call to the pathologist later in the day reveals the discovery of a gold ring inscribed with the name Ciro in the dead man's stomach.
Those discoveries provide a couple of leads that need to be tracked down, and since it seems fairly obvious the killer was either one of Badalamenti’s actual clients or someone very close to one of them the clue to the identity would probably lie in the bundle of documents Bordelli has found.
That’s the outcome of an equation something like Dead body + Ransacked flat = (Probably) Something the killer wanted but didn’t find, and on that basis it makes sense to return the promissory notes to the loan shark’s victims. It’ll be a nice Christmas present for them, and will, more than likely, deliver the evidence that unveils the culprit who, according to the infallible and predictably prickly pathologist Diotivede, is left-handed.
Doing that brings Bordelli into contact with a number of characters who could well become significant players in an ongoing series. There’s the Marisa from the photographs, a stunning beauty who might be making come hither noises to the detective who is old enough to know better and manages to resist the temptation for the moment, her brother, a pot-smoking Rolling Stones fan, and the son of a widowed mother who just happens to have inherited a rural property that just happens to strike Bordelli as an ideal place to retire to. Just to strengthen the links to the emerging sex, drugs and rock’n’roll culture, Bordelli’s ex-prostitute friend introduces him to the herb. Interesting.
Equally interesting is the unfolding string of events in Sardinia. Piras, as we are aware, is the son of one of Bordelli's resistance colleagues, and is impatient to get the recuperative process out of the way, ditch the crutches and get back to Florence and his highly attractive Sicilian girlfriend. With time on his hands, he is drawn into the events surrounding the suicide of a neighbour's cousin which, as previously mentioned, he begins to suspect is not suicide at all.
That supposition is based on the absence of the spent cartridge near the body, but regardless of whether it was actually suicide a bloke with time on his hands is going to dig a little bit to see what was happening around the victim in the days leading up to his death. That bit of digging around suggests he was in the middle of selling off his property, but negotiations had reached an impasse.
Fair enough, you might think. Financial issues (or whatever) prompt the bloke to put the property on the market, things break down, bloke can’t carry on and decides to top himself. Yes, a reasonable enough explanation in theory. But who’s the buyer?
Again, someone who has his plate full might leave it at that, but Piras has time on his hands, a motive to dig in the form of deeply distressed relatives who were close to the victim, and keeps on going. Checking out the buyer reveals a man whose background seems to lie in areas where all the official records had been destroyed, which is possible, but uncomfortably coincidental, and when a personal encounter reveals a prickly individual with a spent cartridge caught in the sole of his shoe...
Go much further than that and you’re in spoiler territory, but that’s two of the three strands that run through the novel accounted for. The third, predictably, has a seasonal focus as Bordelli sorts out a Christmas present for Rosa and sets up a Christmas dinner to be cooked by Botta. He hadn’t been released from jail in time to help with the break-in that might have saved Badalamenti’s life but is just in time to look after the seasonal feast. There are, of course, other delicacies mentioned during Bordelli's visits to Toto’s restaurant kitchen and Piras’ recovery is accompanied by his mother’s Sardinian home cooking.
Three books into the series you might be inclined to gripe about the continued recurrence of wartime reminiscences and the repeated appearance of Fascist and Nazi nasties, but with five years to go until he retires that’s going to bring him into the middle of the violent years of the late sixties and early seventies, The Years of Lead with plots, coup attempts, bombings, intrigues, the rise of right- and left-wing paramilitary groups, and street warfare between rival factions.
Given Vichi’s habit of keeping characters from earlier episodes on the edges of the action is subsequent stories, you’d expect the long-haired dope-smoking Stones fans to stick around the periphery and they’re the sort of people who could well end up in some offshoot of the Red Brigades. On that basis you’d have to suspect Vichi has set things up rather nicely for a very interesting ongoing series.
Bordelli's world view, his friendships with ex-criminals, prostitutes and others who have been marginalised by mainstream society make it fairly obvious which side he’ll be leaning towards.