A perfect town set against the picturesque Alps. Four girls dead. One man willing to untangle a web of deceit and lies…
Marzio Santoni left behind the brutal crimes of the big city long ago. Valdiluce is a quiet ski resort, where all he needs is the peace, quiet and his trusty Vespa. At first glance, the town inhabitants are as perfect as their postcard scenery. But under the surface, nothing is as it seems… So when four women are discovered dead, seemingly by their own hand, Marzio can sense that something isn’t right. Fighting against his police chief, his own emotions and the evidence stacked against him, Marzio is caught up in a race against time to discover what truly happened.
‘The scooter roared along. Too slowly for the haste, he felt inside. Inspector Marzio Santoni, known to all as White Wolf, saw himself frozen, almost motionless, in the landscape. He could get to the Bucaneve quicker on foot by taking shortcuts, so he leaned the Vespa against a wall and ran ferociously. The soles of his shoes threw up earth and leaves. His blonde hair flew across a sky that was growing bluer. An animal. He calculated the fastest route, the distances, the slope, the slippery ground, the undergrowth, the low firs: obstacles that he avoided. The images glistened inside him as though a navigator was marking out his path. Arrows, angles, curves, straight stretches. The excited words of Agostino Uberti, the Bucaneve’s caretaker, echoed in his head.
“Hurry, hurry, it’s a tragedy!”
Elisabetta was in an apartment at the Bucaneve with her three friends. Considering that, what with the lack of snow, there were very few guests, it was all very predictable. There was no point him fooling himself. Did the excessive happiness of those days, the principle of love, have to be punished?
Under the sun, the scent of resin spread through the air wrapped in a light mist. A smell that could kill, the old people said: they had sometimes found foxes dead for no apparent reason.
Marzio Santoni was able to smell odours whatever condition he was in – to separate them, distinguish them. The rot of the leaves, the mossy ground. It was a gift. He came out of the beech forest. With its grey stone, green copper roof and turret, the Bucaneve looked like some cursed castle. Reflected in the blue pupils of White Wolf’s eyes, a gnat-sized fragment appeared, swooping through the sky. Far away, like a semicolon. Trogolo the falcon – the ‘ghost ship’, the curse of Valdiluce, a chain swinging from his leg.
It was an old story: Leopoldo the butcher had displayed a falcon in front of his shop. It had been a great success. The people of the town came to see the bird of prey, they enjoyed baiting him. Trogolo spent the day tearing at his leg to try and escape; in the silence of the night he recovered his strength, and then at dawn, his torments resumed. And even with the limited range, the chain allowed him, when he opened his wings he sent up a cloud of dust and blood. Until one day, the chain broke. Incredible. The falcon flew into the sky with that remnant of his prison attached to his leg. With each wing stroke, he sounded like a ramshackle cart. Trogolo the falcon. A bad omen.
Marzio increased his pace, uphill, leaning forward to counter the force of gravity; it almost looked as though it was he who was making planet Earth rotate. From his mouth came heavy breathing. With his nose, he sniffed out odours. One, in particular, grew stronger the closer he got. Treacherous and subtle. Methane gas. Enough of it to make you sick. His fear erupted.
Agostino, his eyes crazed, coughed out the words.
“Inspector, there’s been a gas leak, something terrible has happened!”
“The four girls.”
Marzio put the red neckerchief he always wore over his mouth. Dazed, crying, sobbing and beating his fists against the wall, Agostino followed him.
“Hurry up, turn off the electricity.”
“I have done.”
Apartment twelve was locked. Agostino tried to open the door using his key, but his hands were shaking and he couldn’t get it into the lock. Marzio charged the door with his shoulder and knocked it down. Darkness. He moved through the gas mixed with a suffocating heat. He wanted to whisper Elisabetta’s name, hear her voice, discover her still alive, but he did not. With a hint of hope, he opened the window, and the light splashed into the room, illuminating a pitiless scene: on the beds lay, Stefania, Flaminia, Angela: composed, sleeping dolls. Elisabetta was trapped in a position that didn’t do her justice. A grimace, eyes appalled, hair betrayed by a messiness she wouldn’t have tolerated. Marzio stared at her in agony. Nothing remained of her beauty. It had flown away. All that was left was a motionless bundle.
Inspector Santoni tried to look at her with professional detachment, as though he must suddenly deny his emotions. It was impossible. Mortally wounded, trapped. Hunted by dogs. A poisoned arrow traversed his veins, pierced the petrified muscles and finally reached his groin. Rage violent enough to drive a man insane. Marzio clenched in his fist the memory of those days. Elisabetta’s sweet, smiling face. Their meetings. Their last harmonious kiss. On his lips, he gathered the magic of her body. Marzio crushed the story between his fingers. Madness. Perhaps it was because of the gas that continued to fill the room. He was losing consciousness. On his hands and knees, he went into the kitchen. He checked the knobs on the cooker – they were all open. He didn’t turn them off for fear of damaging fingerprints – the crime scene must be kept intact. He looked for the gas stopcock. It was open. From there came the poisonous hiss, the mouth of the dragon, the breath of death. He took the red scarf from his mouth and wrapped it around one hand so as to leave no traces. He turned the iron knob firmly, as though by that gesture he could return the four women to life. A bead of sweat, perhaps a tear, escaped him and flew into the light. He caught it and wiped it on his corduroy trousers.
“Inspector. Do you feel alright?”
Agostino stared at him with morbid eyes, as though trying to strip Marzio’s confusion naked. He returned to being an inspector. Abruptly, he bustled him out of the apartment.
“Get out of here immediately. Wait outside.”’
Franco Marks is a writer and television director who lives and works in Rome. He has written the novels La neve Rossa, Il visionario (shortlisted for the 2003 Strega Prize), Festa al blu di Prussia (winner of the Procida Isola di Arturo – Elsa Morante Prize 2005), Il profumo della neve (shortlisted for the 2007 Strega Prize), Lo show della farfalla(shortlisted for the 2010 Viareggio-Repaci Prize), Il suicidio perfetto, La mossa del cartomante, Tre cadaveri sotto la neve, Lo strano caso dell’orso ucciso nel bosco, Delitto con inganno and Giallo di mezzanotte. His books have been translated in several countries.