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by David Hewson
First in the Pino Fratelli and Julia Wellbeloved thriller series set first in the Florence of Fratelli’s memories of the flood in 1966 and now in 1986 and revolving around a disabled detective and a postgraduate student and former lawyer.
This ARC was sent to me by NetGalley and Severn House Digital for an honest review.
It’s a strange book. Part of that is my own fault as I started reading it thinking the male protagonist was from Hewson’s Nic Costa series set in Rome.
Instead, this is a two-part thriller with the primary story involving a pair of very likable characters: Pino Fratelli and Julia Wellbeloved. I do like Julia’s surname, and it reflects how Pino feels about her. There’s a prologue in here that provides the first trauma of Pino’s life as a Jewish child in desperate straits during World War II. And I don’t know why Hewson included this as it really doesn’t play a role in the primary story.
On the whole, Hewson sets up a fascinating conflict for The Flood and infuses it with intriguing characters both good and bad. The art is why Julia is in Florence, researching why people commit vandalism to works of art and does provide a background, a reason, for her presence, but the real focus is on the politics and corruption of Florence, that of the past and today’s as seen through Pino’s psychological assessment of policework. The truth of that political past soured me on the idea of Florence, although its art does pull me back.
There are actually two conflicts in this: the purpose of the story and the problems that Pino faces. He’s been shunted off onto the disabled list due to a tumor in his brain, and it’s driving him mad. It’s as if everyone around him has already written him off as dead. Despite his being an excellent detective, his colleagues all assume that anything he says is related to his tumor. Unfortunately, he does have episodes, but dang, it does not mean he’s an idiot!
It really is lovely how Hewson tracks Pino’s wending path through hostile policemen and his friend as he tries to solve this latest murder and reconcile it with his loss in 1966. And it’s the ending that makes it all worthwhile.
“The sin is to allow ourselves to be fixed by the opinions and the desires of others. Whether through fear or laziness. Better to be … than a trapped bird in an ugly cage, crammed into a pre-formed mould that the world wishes filled…”
The negatives to The Flood include how much Hewson implies. It’s confusing and frustrating as you can’t always tell who is speaking (I still can’t tell), when the character groups switch, and the vagueness of the implications and the actions. Of course, it didn’t help that I let days go between reading it. Yes, part of my avoiding it was wanting to avoid crying over the story, but also because of how confusing it was. It would have helped if Hewson had employed text separators in this as well as an initial name for each person at the start of each switch in conversation.
I don’t know if Hewson meant to give us a sense of Pino’s trauma and how it affected his mind, but it’s too vague. Some of that vagueness is due to Hewson’s description of a possible victim’s experience that night in 1966, for Hewson never lets on to what happened but implies the horror. He certainly doesn’t make any connections between one horror and another.
It’s also a strange blend of show and tell. There is so much in here that could have been intensified for its drama and tension, and Hewson’s writing ebbs and flows between making us feel the story and telling us what’s happening. No, the emotional “arm-waving” of the Italians does not count as show!
I am curious as to where Hewson plans to go with this. That ending does leave it open.
Florence, 1986. A seemingly inexplicable attack on a church fresco of Adam and Eve brings together an unlikely couple: Julia Wellbeloved, an art student, and Pino Fratelli, a semi-retired detective who longs to be back in the field.
Their investigation leads them to the secret society that underpins the city, and back to the darkness in Florence’s past: the night of the great flood in 1966.
Guiseppe “Pino” Fratelli is the name Father Peter gave him. In 1986, he is a maresciallo ordinario of the Florence Carabinieri (police). Chiara Brunelli was his wife. A gorgeous woman within and without whom Pino adored. Signora Grassi is the dragon who does his housecleaning. Signor Grassi runs a café.
The Borgo Ognissanti Carabinieri station in Florence
Capitano Walter Marrone is Pino’s best friend and his boss; Bella is his ex-wife. Luca Cassini is one of the carabinieri, a big guy who enjoys playing rugby. His father is a Florentine councillor and merchant selling quality leather goods. Hewson’s implications that Cassini is unfit for the job, but has Pino finding good in him, could use some work, as there’s nothing that shows this either way. Luca’s Uncle Silvio has an olive farm. Marco, Albani and Nucci are some of the officers. Dr. Ambra Neri is a consultant seeing to Pino’s health. Rossi is the records officer.
Julia Wellbeloved is a twenty-eight-year-old English academic embarking on studies for her second career. Doing research in Florence, she has taken a room in Pino’s home. Benjamin Vine is her ex-husband.
Florentine politicians include…
Sandro Soderini is the mayor and a cowardly participant full of his own and his Medici ancestors’ importance. Giovanni “Vanni” Tornabuoni is the arts commissioner. Well, he is in name. He’s a bisexual beast, a vicious predator. Franco Mariani is the director of the museum at San Marco.
Aristide “Ari” and Chavah Efron Greco are running an organic olive farm.
Frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel are vandalized. Father Bruno Lazzaro is the parish priest at Santa Maria del Carmine and seems to be part of the Brancacci with Pino as one of his parishioners.
November 4, 1966
Ludovico Ducca is a cadet partnered with Pino; now he’s a guard at the Pitti Palace. An older Cassini, Luca’s grandfather, had stopped Pino from going out into the flood. Piero owned a bar and was grateful for aid provided.
Aldo Pontecorvo was seventeen (the bastard son of a crazy woman who lived in a shack in the Biboli Gardens) and employed by Bertorelli, a butcher and the organizer for the La Brigata Spendereccia.
October 30, 1942
Father Peter is the Catholic priest who saved Ariel Montefiore who was born in 1938. Father Peter delivered him to a spinster in Oltrarno. Ariel’s communist parents, Gideon and Esther, were sent to Porto Re in Yugoslavia and then Auschwitz. Il Duce, a.k.a., Mussolini, was a fascist dictator in Italy during World War II.
La Brigata Spendereccia is a monthly excess of food and sex for the select of Florence with 240 members. The cops are told to stay away.
The Cover and Title
The cover is a scene from within the story with Cellini’s sculpture of Perseus holding the head of the slaughtered Medusa in the Loggia dei Lanzi. It’s a sober cover with the grays of the sculpture and the browns of the buildings and the roiling sky in the background.
The title is that pivotal moment, The Flood, when Pino loses everything he loves.