From the Publisher
Praise for Black August
“Trotti is a subtle and convincing creation; the other characters are portrayed with depth and sensitivity, and the Italian atmosphere is authentically beguiling. First-rate in every way.”
“[Williams’s] simple but stylish dialogue-driven prose is convincingly Continental, his plotting impeccable.”
“Williams writes like an angel. He does, but thank Beelzebub, it's a mongrel angel with a bit of fiend about him.”
“Ingenious and evocative.”
“Williams creates a highly convincing Italian background and is superb at giving his characters oblique dialogue.”
“Williams has a gift for creating characters that stick with you long after you have put the book down . . . Add to that gift for recreating the hazy tensions of a small Italian city baking in the summer sun, and you begin to appreciate why so many critics find his novels gripping reads.”
“A fresh and convincing setting . . . Signor Trotti [is] a well-drawn and sympathetic figure.”
—Western Morning News
“If you haven't discovered the Trotti books . . . all of them are highly recommended.”
—International Noir Fiction
“Another excellent novel . . . as gripping in its psychological investigations as Simenon.”
—British Book News
“Take a break with the soothingly cynical company of an Italian crime solver. Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen, Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti, and Andrea Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano come to mind. Add to these Timothy Williams's Commissario Piero Trotti.”
—Read Me Deadly
Praise for the Commissario Piero Trotti series
—The Observer, "10 Best Modern European Crime Writers"
"Subtle, tense and gripping.”
“Commissario Trotti is clever and tough . . . His investigation is fascinating to an American reader because it offers insights into the Italian power structure, which is far more interesting than it is stable.”
“Long live Trotti.”
“Fans of dark-edged, politically textured Euro-mystery will want to keep track of Trotti’s adventures.”
“Stylish and excellent. Those who like Dibdin will eat it up.”
“Trotti himself is perversely lovable; totally dedicated but not without dark, self-deprecating humor.”
Read an Excerpt
23:15 hours, Monday, 6 August
Commissario Trotti pushe d through the crowd of onlookers and knelt beside the body. The last traces of rigor mortis.
“Been dead for a couple of days.”
The face was badly battered and covered with dried blood. There was blood on the back of the head, forming a dark scab in the long pale hair. The woman had worn her hair in a bun.
Flies hovered in the neon lighting of the small bedroom. The air smelled of death. The onlookers stood around the body, staring down with taut, shadowless faces, relieved by the arrival of Commissario Trotti.
In a hushed but self-important voice, the policeman repeated in Trotti’s ear, “Signorina Belloni’s been dead for a couple of days. She lived here.”
The woman lay face down on the floor. Her nightdress had ridden up, revealing pale thighs. She was barefoot. Incongruously, a pair of cloth slippers had been placed neatly beneath the bed.
The sheets had been pulled from the narrow mattress. There were dark stains on the sheets and on the floor. A magazine, published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, lay beside the body. The biblical drawing on the cover was besmirched with blood.
Blood had dribbled from Signorina Belloni’s mouth onto the tiled floor.
Trotti was still crouching when Merenda arrived accompanied by the Procuratore della Repubblica, a young woman. Merenda raised an eyebrow on catching sight of Trotti but neither man spoke. Merenda approached the corpse. Without bending over,
he looked at the body, his face a mask of professional indifference. The uniformed policeman—Agente Zani—hoarsely briefed him on the gruesome discovery.
Then the doctor arrived.
Dottor Bernardi carried a black leather case and, although it was almost midnight, there were patches of sweat about the short sleeves of his shirt. He looked young and out of place, smelling of disinfectant, eau de cologne and innocence. He ran his hand through his thin hair. A brief glimpse of recognition towards Trotti. He shook hands with Commissario Merenda and smiled disarmingly at the procuratore before kneeling down beside the body.
“Nasty,” the doctor muttered under his breath.
“Where’s the photographer, for God’s sake?” Merenda asked irritably, turning to Zani.
By now, Trotti was standing. He took a step back and was glad to see Pisanelli leaning in the doorway, his suede jacket undone and his hands in his pockets.
Trotti pushed his way through the crowd towards him. “Let’s get out of here, Tenente Pisanelli,” he whispered impatiently.
“Nasty.” Again the doctor ran his hand through his salt-andpepper hair. He pulled on a pair of surgical gloves that squeaked unpleasantly. Like an actor on the stage, he was the centre of attraction.
Nobody seemed to notice as Commissario Trotti and Tenente Pisanelli left the small flat.
2: Monopolio Dello Stato
“You never did have much time for Commissario Merenda,” Pisanelli smiled as he accompanied Trotti down the stairs, his hands in the pockets of the scuffed jacket.
“I never did have much time for dead bodies.”
“There was nothing to stop you from retiring a couple of years ago, Commissario.”
“The first corpses I ever saw were in 1944—a couple of Partisans who couldn’t have been much older than me. The Repubblichini had strung them up and left them to bleed to death.” Trotti repressed a shudder. “They wore the red scarf—and somebody had amputated their hands.”
The house had been built in the early nineteenth century, but unlike many old buildings in the city center, it had not yet been modernized and gentrified. The walls needed a fresh coat of ocher paint. The stone stairs were grimy and pitted by the passage of time.
“Part of my nightmares ever since,” Trotti said, taking Pisanelli by the arm. “Good to see you, Pisa. But I don’t see why you called me. I was about to turn the television off and go to bed.” They went down the three flights of stairs into the internal courtyard. In the anemic yellow glow of an overhead light bulb, it was apparent that the cobbled yard and the flower beds had been neglected. Cracked flower pots, a rambling rose in need of pruning. By the far wall, there stood a cement mixer; a pile of sand was protected from the elements by a plastic sheet.
“Very attractive procuratore, don’t you think, Commissario? Signorina Amadeo—from Rome.” From beyond the wooden gate came the dying fall of an ambulance siren in Piazza Teodoro. Pisanelli gave his wolfish smile. “And nice legs.”
The small door in the wooden gate was thrown open and men scuttled through, carrying a collapsible stretcher. They wore round, white hats, white cotton coats and white shoes. Following them Brambilla, the photographer from Scientifica, saw Trotti and Pisanelli. Brambilla grinned as he took the stairs two at a time. The large camera banged against the side of his leg.
“Who is she, Pisanelli?”
“The dead woman.”
“You knew her, Commissario.”
“That’s why you called me away from my television?” Trotti looked at Tenente Pisanelli and frowned. “Hard to recognize anybody who’s been battered that way.”
“Used to be headmistress.”
There was no reaction in Trotti’s dark eyes. “Murder’s not my responsibility, Pisanelli. Merenda’s job—he’s head of the Reparto Omicidi.” Thoughtfully Trotti unwrapped a boiled sweet and placed it in his mouth. “August in the city—I’ve got better things to do than chase up on corpses. And get under Merenda’s feet.”
“In 1978. Anna Ermagni’s headmistress.”
“The little girl they kidnapped, Anna Ermagni. Remember? You went to see her teachers at the school.”
Trotti clicked the sweet against his teeth.
“The headmistress who wore her hair in a bun.”
“Belloni?” Trotti struck his forehead with the palm of his right hand.
“You’re choking on your barley sugar, Commissario.”
“Rosanna Belloni? I didn’t know she lived here.”
“Been there more than five years, Commissario.”
“The corpse is so . . .” Trotti paused. “When Zani said it was Signorina Belloni, I didn’t make the connection. She must have put on weight.”
“Now she’s dead.”
“Why?” Pisanelli shrugged the shoulders of his suede jacket. “I have no crystal ball. A mere flatfoot, Commissario.”
“Who’d ever want to murder Rosanna Belloni?”
“Let’s hope Merenda will find out.”
Trotti gave Pisanelli another sharp glance. Then he said, “I met her a few times. I liked her.” He sucked on the sweet, sighed and sat down wearily on a stone bench. “After a while, we lost sight of each other. She was still at the school?”
“Belloni retired about five years ago.” Pisanelli remained standing. He gestured towards the building. “The entire palazzo belongs to the Belloni family. Signorina Belloni chose to live in the bedsitter.”
“She never married.”
“A shame.” Trotti repressed another shudder. “Thanks for calling me, Pisa.”
“We got the call on 113 about eighty minutes ago. From a journalist who lives upstairs. On the fourth floor,” Pisanelli pointed to a lighted window on the top floor.
“And you contacted me?”
“It’s the middle of August. And since you knew the victim . . .”
“I hadn’t seen her in years.” Trotti asked, “The journalist knows Belloni well?”
“Signorina Belloni sometimes spends the weekend in Milan, where she has relatives. He was worried at not seeing her for several days and as he has a key . . .”
“Who is he?”
“Boatti. Giorgio Boatti—a freelancer.”
“The name’s familiar.”
“His father was a politician back in the early fifties—one of the lay parties, Liberal or Republican. Giorgio Boatti comes from a political background.”
“Wasn’t there a Boatti we had tabs on?”
“In the seventies, during the Years of Lead.”
“Ten, fifteen years ago Giorgio Boatti was involved in university politics.”
“That sort of thing.” Pisanelli grinned. “We all grow up.”
A sharp glance. “You surprise me, Pisa.”
“We all grow up sooner or later.”
“Sooner or later?”
“I’m not sure I see what you’re getting at, Commissario.”
“Still not married, Pisa. Isn’t it about time you settled down? Every six months you’re engaged to somebody different.”
A wide, self-satisfied grin. “This time, it’s for good.”
“This time? Seventeen different times you’ve told me the same thing.” Trotti shook his head, “Tell me about the journalist.”
“She’s very beautiful—and you know her.”
Trotti raised an eyebrow. “The only young woman I know is my daughter—and Pioppi is happily married, expecting her first child any day now. In Bologna.”
“I think you’ll approve of my taste.” Pisanelli grinned with ill-concealed pride. “Eighteen years old.”
Trotti frowned. “Eighteen?”
“At eighteen what does any girl know about life? She’ll leave you—just as the others have always left you.”
“Better they should leave me before marriage than after, Commissario.”
Trotti turned his head away.
An awkward silence.
“You’re probably right, though, Commissario.”
“Of course I’m right.”
“At first women seem to like me,” Pisanelli said wistfully. “Then after a while, that glassy look comes into their eyes. All their passion seems to evaporate.”
Trotti turned to smile at Pisanelli.
“They all say I spend too much time on my job.”
“Tell me about the journalist.”
“This time it’s going to be different.” Pisanelli lit an MS cigarette and sat down on the edge of the flower bed beside Trotti. His shoulders slumped forward. Although he allowed his hair to grow down to his collar, Pisanelli was completely bald at the crown of his head. He was now in his early thirties and was beginning to put on weight around the waist. His jaw was losing the sharp lines of youth.
“Tell me about this Boatti journalist, Pisa.”
“Boatti’s married. A wife and two children . . . two little girls.”
The air was cool in the small courtyard. The smell of the burning cigarette mingled with the sweeter perfume of wild honeysuckle. It was several hours past sunset.
(Another day without rain.)
The brick wall still gave off the accumulated heat of the day.
“Boatti found the body?”
A banging as the wooden gate was thrown open. Policemen in heavy motorcycle boots hurried towards the stairs, accompanying two Carabinieri officers. Despite the late hour, both Carabinieri were wearing their black tunics, resplendent with gold braid, and their peaked caps. One of them, catching sight of Trotti sitting in the courtyard, called out, “Ciao, Rino.”
Trotti didn’t answer. He sat with his hands hanging between his thighs. He didn’t even raise his head. “Boatti found the body?”
Pisanelli said, “Perhaps the murderer thought Belloni kept money under her bed.”
“Rosanna Belloni.” Trotti crunched the boiled sweet between his teeth. He turned and looked at the younger policeman. In Trotti’s eyes, Pisanelli could see the damp reflection of the overhead light bulb. “Rosanna Belloni was a fine woman.” Trotti turned away.
The bells of San Teodoro chimed midnight.