Translated by Marina Sofia
I should state at the outset that Marina (who blogs here) and I have been blog-friends for many years now, but despite living not so far from each other have never quite managed to meet up – yet! She and her colleagues are the brains behind Corylus Books, crime translation specialists concentrating on under-represented European countries. Marina has translated several Romanian novels for them now, (I also reviewed Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu).
Now let me turn my attention to Deadly Autumn Harvest itself. This is the second in a quartet of novels, one for each season to feature forensic pathologist Gigi Alexa who works with the police in the central Romanian town of Brașov. She is called in to help when a pair of seemingly random murders occur. The modus operandi are entirely different, it must be two killers, surely? But at the back of her mind is a previous case she was involved in where the police failed to discover a serial killer and kidnapper until it was too late. What’s more, Superintendant Tomescu, Vlad, the former Chief of Police in Brașov, with whom she’d had a tempestuous relationship that ended in her accusing him of violent intentions, is back on secondment, much to Chief Inspector Matei’s annoyance. The investigations are getting nowhere fast though, when an explosion at an art gallery happens one night, adding another crime to their current list, stretching the team even further. Could they all be linked?
To say there is unfinished business between Gigi and Vlad would be understating it perhaps. The pressure is on her so much that it overspills to her overattentive boyfriend Radu, a vet, who is the first man she has allowed to move in with her (and her cat). Will that relationship survive? At this stage of the novel, I thought it would be a struggle.
However, it is perhaps when Radu tells her about a horse he got called out to, in stables that had been flooded, that an theory begins to seed itself in Gigi’s mind. Bizarrely, all the crimes might just be linked after all and can they catch the perpetrator before they kill again? I can’t say any more about the crimes or the investigation, but initially Gigi struggles to get her theory accepted. It’s just too wild – or is it?
The novel begins with the first murder, told from the killer’s PoV – indeed, the chapter is subtitled ‘the first’, and the further crimes are interspersed between the chapters of the investigation and Gigi’s story, all similarly numbered.
While this novel is set in modern-day Romania, women still have to work harder to achieve acceptance, and male attitudes can still be rather old-fashioned, as we see by how police PR liaison Alina is treated by some. Luckily though, the rest of Gigi’s colleagues, Emil at the morgue and CI Matei in particular are supportive. If there is a theme running through this novel, apart from the crimes, that is, it has to be the amount of coffee that Gigi gets through each day! It is the fuel that feeds the investigations and café culture obviously plays a large place in urban Romania.
Gigi herself is a fascinating character, we don’t see her much in the morgue, this isn’t Silent Witness. She is actively involved in the cases, intuitively finding the way forward when forensics, legwork, CCTV and scouring records don’t provide the answers. She has baggage too, some stemming from that previous case, (I hope that’s the subject of the first novel in this series and that it’ll be translated too perhaps…) She reminds me a little of state prosecutor Chastity Riley in the series of novels by German author Simone Buchholz – especially the latest one which took us back to earlier in Riley’s career (reviewed here). Both women are smart, keen to progress in their careers, yet they are vulnerable to the right kind of chat-up from the wrong blokes – which keeps it interesting to say the least! Read into that what you will.
I always like a taut crime novel, and at 225 pages, Deadly Autumn Harvest is nearly a one-sitting read. The action fair zips along, we have a super protagonist versus a clever killer, who will make you shudder, and a great climax that made this book a page-turning pleasure to read. Tony Mott has created a great character in Gigi Alexa, and I would love to read more in translation by her.
Visit the Corylus website here. Tony Mott, Deadly Autumn Harvest, paperback original, 225 pages.
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