Jones, Tobias - 'The Salati Case'
THE SALATI CASE by Tobias Jones is the first in an new PI series set in Northern Italy. Author of the non-fiction work THE DARK HEART OF ITALY, Jones is somewhat of an expert on the changes and undercurrents in recent Italian history, which are reflected in this novel.
Jones's hero, Castagnetti, (Casta for short) pounds the streets of an unnamed small northern town (probably Parma) which, if not exactly mean, exude a dangerous edge underneath the surface civility. After the death of an elderly widow, Signora Salati, Casta is instructed by her lawyer to establish whether Signora Salati's son, Riccardo, missing for several years, can be considered dead, before the estate is distributed. The disappearance of Riccardo, a drifter and gambler rather adept at spending other people's money, wasn't taken very seriously at the time by the local police, so Casta has to start from scratch, travelling to Rimini and the farms and villages of the rural north-east of Italy to interview Riccardo's family, former girlfriend and employers. Like any self-respecting fictional PI, Casta has a dogged determination to get to the truth, uncovering skeletons in family cupboards and ruffling more than a few feathers in the process (including those of a Calabrian gangster).
Salati is an engaging hero, a loner with the requisite PI muckraking tendencies and penchant for hard liquor and attractive women, with (in a possible nod to the retired Sherlock Holmes), the unusual hobby of beekeeping in his spare time. Characterisation of the other characters is less detailed, but convincing and at times dryly amusing. Tobias Jones has a great sense of the peccadilloes of gossipy secretaries and vain middle-aged men. The depiction of the town is skillful and convincing; the wintry foggy miasma appears somewhat appropriate to the nature of the crime that Casta is investigating. THE SALATI CASE provides an entertaining and intelligent continental variant on the PI/dysfunctional family thriller and I look forward to reading further books in this series.
Laura Root, England