A Florentine Death, by Michele Giuttari

This is Michele Giuttari’s first novel in his series of crime novels set in Florence. The author is actually a previous head of the Squadra Mobile in Florence – an interesting fact I only picked up on during the ‘author’s note’ at the end of the book – but I should have guessed. The details about the police force; its organisation, temperament, and general atmosphere all ring very true, as do the comments about the city in general. While sounding slightly romanticised (although in a different way to the usual tourist spiel: Giuttari describes Florence as a picture-postcard city which is actually as modern as any other in its vices), it reads much better than the idealised picture a non-resident might paint.

The plot was not one which I personally enjoyed, centred around a series of brutal murders in the city. The additional personal threat to the main character was (albeit slightly clichéd) necessary to hold the reader’s interest, both in terms of who the murderer was, and what their motive was, but also in terms of discovering more about the main character, Michele Ferrara.

The writing style was what I struggled the most with, and this may simply be down to the fact that I don’t read many crime novels. The point of view in many chapters switched abruptly from person to person, often with no real reason. I also found certain reiterations tedious and the factual delivery of some sentences quite bland. Again, this may be due to the genre, and possibly due to something having been lost in translation.

For me, the overall success of the novel was the authenticity with which the author writes about a subject he clearly knows a lot about. The subject is not hackneyed, and I think he deserves praise – after all, how many policemen would dare to confront a Mafia network during his work, and then write novels about it afterwards?

When Nights Were Cold, by Susanna Jones

An intriguing exploration not only into the world of early 20th century female adventurers, but into society as a whole, and the psychology of individuals who feel trapped within it or by it.

The novel tells the story of Grace Farringdon and her obsession with the pioneering explorers such as Shackleton and Scott. We follow Grace as she battles to escape the confines of her suffocating family, and strives to achieve her dreams of experiencing the extreme conditions she has imagined so vividly while following news of the famous explorers.

At the end of this novel I am left with the feeling that the subject matter, which essentially is early polar exploration and mountaineering, is only a means to an end. In my opinion the novel is an investigation into psychology and the definition of being mad. At one point, the narrator flees her house after overhearing her mother discussing the possibility of the doctor helping her regain a normal state of mind. At first the reader is as appalled as the narrator, but by the end of the novel, I was questioning whether what at first simply seems to be an overactive imagination could in fact be described as madness. Or is it just eccentricity? I am still not sure quite what to make of the central character, and I believe this is a good thing, because throughout the novel I’d say that the characters she interacts with also don’t know quite what to make of her. For a first person narration to be truly successful, the reader must be treated as anybody else, and the author has been successful in this instance.

Overall the novel’s greatest achievement is that it really demands the reader to put themselves in the shoes of the narrator, to imagine what they would feel in her situation. Women today live astoundingly free lives compared to those of women at the beginning of the 20th century. And all of us have our own quirks and eccentricities which could equal Grace’s – would we also have been threatened with asylums?

Read this book for a psychological journey, for a cleverly structured plot which hints at things to come and leaves you reading late into the night, and for a particularly poignant ending.