A Few Drops of Blood by Jan Merete Weiss — review

Venice has Donna Leon and her Commissario Guido Brunetti, and now Naples has Jan Merete Weiss and her Captain Natalia Monte of the Carabinieri. The author brings fully to life the historic beauty of the city, as well as its rampant poverty and nearly total control by the Napolitan version of the American mafia and its Gotti crime family: the clans of the Camorra, in particular the Scavullo family.

One of two personal problems Natalia is dealing with, or not, arises from the fact that her closest childhood friends, two women with whom she still has ties, were and each still is a cammorista. One of two things prohibited by the Carabinieri, the other being that she has become romantically involved with her partner, now taking a leave of absence. She has now been assigned a new partner, a rookie just transferred from Palermo, where she was their first Sicilian female officer.

In the opening pages, Natalia is assigned a murder case: The naked bodies of two young men have been discovered in a gruesome pose atop an enormous sculptured horse in a magnificent garden of the elderly Contessa Antonella Maria Cavazza. The men, identified as a gossip columnist and a senior curator at the Museo Archeologico, had been shot to death, the small gauge shotgun being “the traditional execution weapon of the rural mafia, a stubby weapon for hunting small game and two-legged mammals.” It soon becomes apparent that the men had been lovers. The investigation leads to many suspects, and a variety of possible motives.

This is the second novel to feature Capt. Monte, who had been promoted from the art squad to major crime investigation, with a degree in law from the officers’ school in Rome, whose career had been bright before being compromised by her choice of companions. Her former partner comes back into her life, jeopardizing both of them. She was after all his superior. Now nearing forty, she longs for a ‘normal’ private life. But as the body count rises, that must be her priority.

A beautifully written novel, including glimpses into the history of the area during and after the war and a solid murder mystery at its core, it is recommended.

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