Perissinotto, Alessandro - 'Blood Sisters' (translated by Howard Curtis)
BLOOD SISTERS, first published in Italy in 2006, is a compelling tale of an unusual investigation and investigator. Anna Pavesi, a psychologist in her late 30s, has recently moved to the old Upper City of Milan after leaving Turin and her husband. She's living in her grandmother's old apartment and her only companions are her cat Morgana and the old lady who lives downstairs. Although she has plenty of work from the health authorities, payment is less forthcoming, so Anna has taken on some private cases to make ends meet. One of these involved finding the playboy son of a rich man as a preface to attempting to help the boy with some psychotherapy. The action of this novel is started when another member of Italy's "high society", Benedetta, makes an appointment to see Anna under the mistaken impression that she is a detective. Benedetta's half sister, Patrizia, has recently died, victim of a hit-and-run driver. Benedetta, who quickly summarises her history and biological relationship with Patrizia for Anna's and the reader's benefit, felt duty-bound to re-bury the girl in the family vault, only to have found that her coffin was empty. Benedetta wants Anna to discover what happened so that the body can be found and reburied quietly and discreetly.
Although Anna is reluctant in one sense to take on the case, not least because Benedetta is haughty and unfriendly, but also because she thinks Benedetta would more usefully do with some psychotherapy to examine her (lack of) feelings about her half-sister, she agrees to help largely because of the cheque she is offered for her services. Most of the rest of the book is about Anna and her uncovering of Patrizia's last weeks. This involves trips along the industrial corridor of the Po valley, to the site where the girl was killed, a bit of wood by the side of the road where prostitutes hang out; to the hospital where Patrizia lay in a coma for a week before she died; and to the farm where she worked. Anna gradually pieces together the details of Patrizia's life, soon unearthing the presence, but not the identity, of a boyfriend. At the same time, Anna reflects on her lonely life, questioning whether she has done the right thing in leaving her husband. Later, she is attracted to one of the people who knew Patrizia, which leads her into various emotional and practical complications.
BLOOD SISTERS is an absorbing novel, whose attractions are enhanced by the atmosphere of life in Milan's old quarter and in the increasingly polluted and foggy industrial corridor where Anna has to repeatedly travel. I enjoyed reading it, though I have a couple of quibbles: although she turns out to have very good detective skills, the crucial clue that leads Anna to solve the case is not only unrelated to her prior investigation but depends on a bit of a stretch; and I did not like the way that the chapters telling of the investigation are interspersed with a present-day account of an event that is intended to be suspenseful but which instead are rather clunky.
These are minor issues, though: overall, the story is a well told tale, with a realistic and sympathetic protagonist in Anna as well as believable minor characters. Hersilia Press is to be congratulated for publishing this novel for an English-reading audience; kudos also to Howard Curtis for a naturalistic translation.
Maxine Clarke, England
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