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Fitzgerald, Conor - 'Bitter Remedy'
Trade Paperback: 320 pages (Aug. 2014) Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing ISBN: 1408853450

"Are you any good at working on your own, Blume? From what I hear, you're not so great at working with others, but it's not quite the same thing."

She has lost any measure for time. Surrounded by the vivid colours and hallucinatory images arising from the utter darkness - she prays both for help and in preparation for death.

Caterina lets herself into Alec's apartment. It is the sole occupied unit in an empty block on an unfinished construction site and she has only seen it once since she kicked Alec out of her own home, accusing him of being incapable of being a father to their nine-month old daughter and to her son. Now Alec is on sick leave but she has no idea where he is. She searches the rubbish for clues but all she finds are printouts about police pensions and torn scraps about a villa and its "famous" gardens. A holiday? She'll get back to her children then.

Central Italy.
Alec Blume stands in the "famous" gardens of the Villa Romanelli, lost and listening out for sounds of people. His hives itch, he swallows a pill - and sweating, he pops another pill under his tongue for the panic. A gardener re-directs him back to a hostile-looking group. The course organiser, Sylvana, challenges him on receiving her cancellation email - and on parking in the wrong place. While the others argue about the cancellation, Blume wanders away from the fall-out. He is studying the crumbling walls of the villa itself when Sylvana finds him and guides him back towards the exit. They pass a group of giant plants and Blume asks her about them. "Angelica" she says, as he sniffs some seeds and swallows them. He spits out the burning, bitter things. His tongue is swelling. He is sweating, in pain and his thoughts jumble. Sylvana's father, not "the gardener" after all, drives him quickly to the nearest hospital. When he wakes in the hospital bed, the doctor tells him that he has suffered a full blown panic attack. Hives, angina, perhaps recently he has had a stroke? Blume is indignant. The doctor continues: Drink? Drugs? Perhaps improperly renewed prescription drugs? When it is also clear that the doctor knows that Blume is a homicide detective and not a tax accountant as he had evasively answered, the doctor goes on to ask: Are you here about the missing girl?

BITTER REMEDY is Conor Fitzgerald's fifth, Italian-set "Commissario Alec Blume" novel. This time we follow our hapless, American-born and now self-medicating "hero" to central Italy where he has enrolled on an alternative therapy course, a most uncharacteristic move on his part. Rushed to hospital after a panic attack, he is visited by Niki, a local club-owner and suspicious fiancÚ of Sylvana - the lovely young therapist from the Villa Romanelli. Blume leaves the hospital but remains trapped in the town after his car is involved in an accident. With his true identity as a Rome detective revealed, he is approached by a young Romanian woman who asks him to help her find her missing friend, Alina.

Fitzgerald interweaves Blume's search for the missing woman with the harsh back story of Nadia and Alina leaving Romania for a better life only to find themselves trafficked into the sex trade. Fitzgerald has a genius for writing ambiguous characters and there are plenty to be found in BITTER REMEDY. The writing is also filled with dark, hallucinatory passages: due not only to the setting and story of Villa Romanelli but to Blume's own increasing stress and ill-health. Possibly one needs to read the previous THE MEMORY KEY in order to better understand the narrative of his life and his current state. However, fans can be sure that Blume is still capable of digging himself into a hole and Fitzgerald continues to sprinkle his character's stubborn and awkward contrariness with that touch of humour that redeems him.

Suspense and Gothic mystery coupled with contemporary realism, this book is also recommended for all who like an imperfect hero.

Lynn Harvey, England
February 2015

Lynn blogs at Little Grey Doll.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 6/02/2015 19:39