I love a good murder mystery, especially with a foreign location thrown in for extra interest, so when I read the synopsis for this book it was pretty appealing.
Captain Natalia Monte is assigned to investigate the murder of a pretty student found in the catacombs beneath a monastery in Naples. There are more than a couple of suspects for Monte and her partner to investigate, some of them who have a history with Natalia. The story is set in a Naples drowning in rubbish and with the main crime families at war, and one of Monte's oldest friends caught up in the violence.
While I haven't visited Naples I have had a couple of stints working elsewhere in Italy and there is a lot of wonderful evocative narrative that painted a familiar picture for me, of both the place and the people. This was probably what I liked most about the book. I found a lot of the information about the Catholic church and the influence of the Camorra criminal organisation very interesting, also a positive. However other aspects of the book weren't so strong.
I found that there was plenty of description of passing characters, which provided a lot of local colour but didn't relate to the plot, yet I came away from the book with very little feeling for Monte or her partner. I didn't feel like I understood her background or got any real sense of her feelings about what was happening. She wasn't unsympathetic, perhaps worse I came away feeling apathetic. The developing relationship between the partners was nice but I can't see myself picking up future books in the series to find out what happens between them in the future.
With regard to the murder mystery, it started strongly and there were plenty of candidates for the role of murderer, each with their own motive. However towards the end everything seemed to resolve itself too easily, with confessions falling into Monte's lap. Without wanting to reveal too much, when the murderer was revealed their motive was made clear but I couldn't entirely understand why they had staged the scene as they had and no attempt was made to explain it.
I also felt that the other strand to the book, the rivalry between the criminal organisations and its effect on Monte's friend, was very minor for most of the book only to becoming more dominant towards the end. The decaying rubbish was mentioned throughout but it seemed more of a background setting than a storyline earlier on and it felt a little unbalanced.
This wasn't a bad book but it isn't one I can find myself getting hugely enthusiastic about. I have read too many books of this type that I've really enjoyed to be able to see myself recommending this one.
Format - E-book, review copy, expected release date 9th May 2011
My rating - 2*