Investigating the murders of two men whose bodies were found grotesquely displayed in a garden, Captain Natalia Monte of the Carabiniere is forced to confront her own complicated past while navigating violent elements in Naples' decadent art scene and criminal underworld. - (Baker & Taylor)
Jan Merete Weiss’s Italy comes to life as Captain Natalia Monte of the Naples Carabiniere returns to investigate a murder committed at the heart of the great city’s art community.
When the bodies of two men are found, shockingly posed, in the garden of an elderly countess, Captain Natalia Monte of the Carabiniere is assigned the case. Soon she finds herself shuttling between Naples’s decadent art galleries and violent criminal underworld. If she is to succeed in solving the heinous crime, Natalia must deal with not only her own complicated past and allegiances, but also those of the city as a whole. A riveting and poetic exploration of the violence that lurks in the heart of beauty. - (Random House, Inc.)
The moon was a ghost when the call came in. The caller said she wished to notify Captain Natalia Monte about two bodies. Routed from another Carabinieri station to hers on Via Casanova, the voice announced herself a countess and said that she didn’t trust ordinary police.
Moments later Natalia Monte raced through the predawn gray, siren blaring, flashing lights throwing blue and white bolts across buildings and intersections. She drove along Via Carducci, turned onto the Riviera di Chiaia, past its expensive shops and the aquarium, still run down since the Second World War when the hungry raided its tanks.
The Alfa Romeo zipped along the boulevard, palm trees arched overhead, the plazas dark, the Bay of Naples a blur to her left. On Via Petrarca she shot past a fountain she’d loved as a girl, with marble cherubs blowing trumpets.
Finally she slowed and searched for the turn.
Natalia spotted the driveway of Palazzo Carraciulo and passed through its open gates, up a long curved drive lush with royal palms. So different from the cramped alleys of old Naples where she lived and worked. A hundred yards in, she pulled alongside a new police Ferrari parked in front of a grey stone mansion, its pristine façade incorporating sleek pediments discreetly illuminated. An ancient butler directed her to the garden. Natalia followed a stone path around the side of the building and flashed her identification at the Carabiniere guarding the scene.
The lush garden was beautifully wild with grasses and flowers. Several cats dozed on the edge of a patio. Honeysuckle and jasmine perfumed the air. A yellow butterfly on
an orange lily slowly opened and folded its wings.
Natalia stepped onto the grass and walked toward the rose bushes that surrounded a life-sized horse cast in metal, the centerpiece of a dry fountain half filled with potted blooms—white roses. The sculpture was enormous. Two male figures sat astride the unbridled steed—one man pitched forward, his arms draped along the animal’s neck.
The second man leaned into him from behind. Neither was clothed.
Natalia stepped closer. Dark splotches marred the creamy petals of flowers encircling the fountain. Already there were flies. She circled the statue slowly, shining a light up at the two, just barely making out dark punctures that riddled their chests. Young men—shotgunned from the look of them. Blood dripped down their torsos and loins, along their legs and the flanks of the horse into the fountain’s basin. Its iron scent mixed with the lush bouquet of the roses.
Suddenly she noticed the woman by the rhododendrons, motionless as the men. Silver hair framed her face and flowed past her slim shoulders. She wore a white silk
kimono printed with orange and purple cranes. Cranes symbolized long life, Pino, Natalia’s ex, had told her once in an intimate moment. The woman’s eyes were a startling shade of lavender.
Natalia held up her Carabinieri identification. “Captain Monte. As you requested.”
“Contessa Antonella Maria Cavazza,” she said and extended her hand, the tiny fingers like a child’s. “Thank you for coming.”
Natalia took the delicate, age-splotched hand.
“You found them?”
“Yes, I made the unhappy discovery.”
“Do you know the victims?”
“The second man in back. Vincente Lattaruzzo. He’s a senior curator at the Museo Archeologico.”
“When did you find them?”
“Just before seven. I’m an early riser. Unless it’s raining, I take my coffee here in the garden.”
“Did you see or hear anything during the night or early this morning?”
“Hear? No. My bedroom is in the wing over there.” Antonella Cavazza pointed to the far end of the building. “When I have trouble sleeping—which is often these days—I wander the house. But the windows are all double glazed and sealed for the air-conditioning. So, no. I didn’t hear a disturbance.”
“How do you know the victim?”
“I’m on the board of the museum. Once a year I host a dinner party. Senior staff are invited. I first met him there— last Christmas, I believe. And he had occasion to address the board at times. Terribly likeable.”
The medical examiner, Dr. Francesca Agari, arrived, followed by the forensic photographer draped with equipment. He proceeded immediately to the dead men and began taking still pictures and videotaping the crime scene. A groundskeeper brought a ladder, and the photographer mounted it to get closer to the dead equestrians.
“Captain Monte,” Dr. Agari said, acknowledging Natalia as she came forward, then, “Nell.” She kissed the countess on each cheek. “How terrible for you!”
As usual, Natalia’s colleague was perfectly groomed, blond highlights symmetrical. She wore a filmy gray blouse, tasteful yet sexy under a black suit jacket, and slacks.
“Yes,” the countess said. “How are you my dear? How’s Mama?”
“Difficult as always,” Dr. Agari replied warmly. The countess moved away to let the detective and the doctor confer.
“Mama?” Natalia said, as she pulled on rubber gloves.
Two mortuary men entered near the hedges.
“Over here!” Dr. Agari called. “She and my grandmother were great friends. I had my tenth birthday party here in this garden.”
Mortuary staff earned a good living in their coveted jobs. Nepotism abounded: The husky men looked to be brothers.
“They’ll need another ladder.” Natalia returned to the countess.
“There’s one in the tool shed,” she said and escorted the men toward the far end of the garden.
Natalia searched the perimeter. Fancy topiary abounded: bushes shaped like turrets, azalea trimmed to a perfect circle around the base of an olive tree. Something interrupted the perfect symmetry. She stepped closer. It took her a moment to understand what she was seeing: a cotton work shirt. This one appeared old, the kind once worn by laborers in the fields, patched and mended many times, laid out across a bush as if to dry. It may have been white when new, but this morning—except for the rust-colored sleeves—the shirt lay dark and stiff, heavily stained, its fabric torn.
Natalia called for an evidence bag, slipped it in, and returned to the corpses. Dr. Agari was peering in and around the bodies, looking for signs of sexual union between the two. Soon, Natalia thought, she would peel away, remove, examine and weigh their secrets, as Dr. Agari would their flesh and organs.
There were no discernible tracks in the hard earth along the walks. They’d kept to the grass.
A dove regarded Natalia from its patch of dirt beneath a flaming bougainvillea. Checking for footprints, she followed the pebble walkways radiating from the fountain. A
profusion of flowers—giant lilies, amber and rose—enveloped her path, their sweet scent thick. A bee anchored the velvet petal of a petunia.
Such a strange place for a gruesome murder. Out of the way, certainly. The countess’s paradise seemed light years removed from the rest of the city. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to stage it here, someone familiar with the garden.
The countess had taken refuge under a large awning that shaded a stone patio and the table where she took her coffee. Lilies, thistles and wild flowers surrounded her. The
mortuary men had taken down the bodies and laid them on gurneys. Dr. Agari stood over the corpses, securing her swabs and evidence envelopes.
Natalia approached the countess. “Would you mind taking a look?” She indicated the dead men. Francesca approached across the lawn.
“She’s going to try to identify the other victim,” Natalia said.
“Nella, are you sure?” Dr. Agari came and put her arm
around the countess.
“My dear, you know me better than that.”
The mortuary men stepped away. The countess bent from the waist and studied the unidentified corpse. He was short and stocky. Not as young as the other victim, but no
more than forty. Prematurely bald, cheeks ashen.
“Carlo Bagnatti,” the countess said, standing.
“The gossip columnist?” Natalia asked. “Are you sure?”
“He writes for Rivelare and is carried in La Stella. I’ve seen his photo and once or twice on the chat shows.” She looked exhausted.
“Perhaps you should lie down inside,” Dr. Agari suggested. “Here.” She held out an arm to escort her.
“No, I’m fine. Really. I can sit on the terrace.” The countess and her friend made for the house.
“Excuse me,” Natalia called.
The countess looked back. “Yes? What?”
“I’ll need to ask you a few more questions. Would you mind?”
“Of course not.”
Francesca touched the countess’s shoulder. “Are you sure?”
“I’m fine. Don’t let me interrupt your work, cara. We’ll talk later, yes?”
“Certo,” Francesca said. She joined the photographer, and they spoke quietly.
The countess led Natalia to a bench obscured by a large magnolia.
“So, you knew Carlo Bagnatti as well?” Natalia said.
“Only from his column,” she said. “Vile trash. Stories that might shock even you, Captain. Really salacious stuff and, more often than not, he was accurate, unlike the usual tabloid nonsense.”
“So, you knew Vincente Lattaruzzo from the museum and had encountered him at their functions?”
“A number of times, yes.”
“And Bagnatti? You never ran into him at social affairs?”
“No. Though he did contact me once—he was looking for dirt about someone I was acquainted with. Naturally, I was of no help.”
“The way the murdered men were posed,” Natalia asked, “do you have any idea if the victims were involved? Romantically, I mean?”
“I don’t know about that. I do know Vincente lived with a significant other. I believe that’s the correct term. A male. About Bagnatti’s personal life, I have no idea.”
“Would you have Mr. Lattaruzzo’s address?”
“Certainly. I’ll get it for you.”
Natalia closed her notebook. “I will have more questions later today or tomorrow.”
“Of course. Just call ahead. My calendar isn’t full.”
Natalia returned to the victims.
“She okay?” Dr. Agari said.
“Seems so. What do we have?”
“Shotgun blast,” Dr. Agari said, indicating Lattaruzzo. “Small gauge. The other victim the same.”
A small gauge shotgun—the traditional execution weapon of the rural mafia, a stubby weapon for hunting small game and two-legged mammals.
“Victim One,” Francesca said, “also has ligature marks around his throat.”
“He was strangled?”
“More likely hung.”
“The other victim too?”
“No. Both also show signs of having been tortured.” Natalia squatted to look at the wounds more closely and played her flashlight on Lattaruzzo’s face. Vincente, he was
lightly made up.
“Is Bagnatti wearing makeup, too?” she asked.
“Both are, yes. Cheeks rouged, a faint white dot at the outside corner of each eye, lashes thick with mascara, eyebrows penciled. Across the lips, the slightest suggestion of color.”
“Were they killed here?” Natalia said.
“I don’t think so. Not enough blood present.”
“Any clues as to where?”
“You might look for wherever Mr. Lattaruzzo left his privates.”
Carabinieri Captain Natalia Monte (These Dark Things, 2011) has one foot solidly planted in law enforcement, but the other dangles in her old Naples neighborhood, which is awash in organized crime. Natalia thinks she's seen the worst of Naples' underworld until she responds to a report of two bodies discovered in a countess' garden. The men are posed naked astride a horse sculpture with evidence nearby indicating a traditional vendetta killing. A little digging reveals that the victims were homosexual, and, considering the routine attacks on Naples' gay community, Natalia can't eliminate that factor as a possible motive. But depraved camorra boss Ernesto Scavullo lurks in the background, and Natalia senses his connection to the murders. At the same time, Natalia's former partner and lover Pino returns, forcing her to finally confront her feelings. Weiss' cast is outstanding: gifted, tortured Natalia shares the stage with dangerously exotic Naples and the camorra's simultaneous roles as parasite and protector. Highly recommended for police-procedural and international-crime-fiction readers. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.
Library Journal Reviews
Confronted by a dramatically staged murder of two gay lovers posed on a statue in a countess's backyard, Capt. Natalia Monte of the Carabiniere ponders motives. Hate crime, yes, but is it antigay or instead, a passionate statement left by another lover? It takes her connections with female mob bosses to ferret out the real story behind the deaths of these two men—an art curator and a tabloid reporter. As her investigation deepens, successive murders threaten to make Naples look like a homophobic murder capital. Ernesto Scavullo—a particularly loathsome mob boss—looks heartless enough to orchestrate such carnage. But beyond these lurid sexual liaisons lurks a secret motive dating back to World War II. Natalia must ascertain what has stirred up all this wrath, and why now. VERDICT Fans of Weiss's series debut These Dark Things who have been awaiting a sequel will find their patience well rewarded by this strong follow-up. Alternating between wistful and doggedly pragmatic, Weiss's protagonist walks a fine line as a Neapolitan cop.
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