The Mystery of the Three Orchids by Augusto de Angelis and Jill Foulston (translator)

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The Mystery of the Three Orchids by Augusto de Angelis and Jill Foulston (translator)

Category: Crime
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: This curio from wartime Italy will be of note to crime fans – but those with the eagerness to join in will also be those too literate to be fully satisfied.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 192 Date: September 2016
Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo
ISBN: 9781782271727

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All the ladies of O'Brian Fashion House are trying to do is to present their works in the best of lights to the best of Milanese and European society, but they're not going to find a dead person on their premises much help. Cristiana lives in Casa O'Brian, on the top floor of the building where everything key to her company happens, and it's on her bed that she finds the corpse – resplendent with an orchid perched nearby, an orchid that bizarrely means a lot to her. What could it signify? Was she correct in thinking she'd seen some people she really didn't want to see back in her life, in the audience below? And who here might not actually be who they first appear? It'll be a tough case for Inspector de Vincenzi, that's for sure.

This, it has to be said, came as a surprise to me as a book from Pushkin Vertigo. It's not got a drop of noir in its bones, coming from 1940s Italy, and from the author who practically invented the Italian Crime Novel – and suffered as a result. It shows, too – unfortunately it has several dated elements. A dress is so short it's mentioned that it shows the knee. The dishabille of the models is not given salaciously, but you can see it having a certain daring attached to it. One man states there are 48 American States, which there certainly were at the time.

But much more importantly, the structure of the book, and the nature of everything present that makes it up, feels dated. This doesn't get as tricksy as a locked room mystery, far from it – the building seems quite porous, even if de Vincenzi keeps the exits guarded and tries to keep tabs on all his suspects. It's one of those thrillers where the cast gets smaller and smaller – you'll have noted the title refers to three orchids, so you know what that means – until there's just a handful to meekly sit down and look up at our detective character as he goes through all his evidence in one last verbal revelation. It's said that de Vincenzi is slightly off-kilter among his colleagues for ignoring the physical evidence in favour of the psychological, although we're allowed to know that only at the halfway mark, and there's been very little evidence of that up to then, and very little to mark him out as a modern investigator at all.

But why quibble about the vintage of a murder mystery when the best – Holmes, Poirot, Wimsey, whoever – have long been established as the best? Well, my point is that this isn't the best. I found very little about de Vincenzi to engage with. I guess we know a lot more from the dozen-plus other books he featured in, but we learn so little of him here, his at- and off-work activities, and so on, that he was a cypher moving through the plot until his big grandstanding speech. I didn't like him, and I didn't really engage with the story, either, with its daftly made-up names, its tiny cast list, and its lack of fully appropriating the fashion setting. Without casting too much of an aspersion it seemed Pushkin didn't love the book either – for once they allow quite a few typos in, and somehow the day after the 9th of March becomes the first. If you need to see for some serious hobbyist reason what the Italian variant of our British crime thriller was in the pre-noir days, then this is most certainly the author to turn to, and I wouldn't worry too much about being force-fed the other two of his that Pushkin already publish, but I refuse to believe this is the best of his work.

I must thank the publisher for my review copy.

Apparently de Angelis was the first to declare Italian crime stories a runner – well, he'd not recognise the country of Montalbano, Guido Brunetti et al.

Buy The Mystery of the Three Orchids by Augusto de Angelis and Jill Foulston (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Mystery of the Three Orchids by Augusto de Angelis and Jill Foulston (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Mystery of the Three Orchids by Augusto de Angelis and Jill Foulston (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Mystery of the Three Orchids by Augusto de Angelis and Jill Foulston (translator) at Amazon.com.


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