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In the shadow of the "Monster of Florence," a serial murderer who has terrorized Italy for seventeen years, Laura Grimaldi sets her tense psychological thriller Suspicion—a noir mystery of a city transformed by fear, and of friendships and family ties twisted by uncertainty and dark speculation. Grimaldi, whose hardboiled mysteries of the 1950s earned her the title "Italy’s queen of crime," turns here to the deeper, more elusive and disturbing questions that haunt human affairs....
In the shadow of the "Monster of Florence," a serial murderer who has terrorized Italy for seventeen years, Laura Grimaldi sets her tense psychological thriller Suspicion—a noir mystery of a city transformed by fear, and of friendships and family ties twisted by uncertainty and dark speculation. Grimaldi, whose hardboiled mysteries of the 1950s earned her the title "Italy’s queen of crime," turns here to the deeper, more elusive and disturbing questions that haunt human affairs.
For years Matilde, the widow of a prominent Florentine doctor, has lived alone with her eccentric middle-aged son, Enea. When the police pay a call, the balance between mother and son is shifted just subtly enough to make Matilde prey to suspicions and doubts that grow ever more corrosive, ever harder to conceal and more dangerous to reveal. In the literary tradition of such mystery writers as Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell, Grimaldi creates an atmosphere charged with suspense as the daily lives and routines of her characters, infected with suspicion, begin to rearrange themselves around a few frightening facts and infinite monstrous possibilities.
Matilde’s efforts to decipher Enea’s secretive movements and occupations appear perfectly sensible and defensible through Grimaldi’s deft shifts between mother and son—and another, chillingly detached perspective on the gruesome murders. Grimaldi’s readers will find themselves as subject to misinterpretation and doubt, to sympathies and suspicions as her Florentine characters, and spellbound until the book’s final page.
In the morning, she noticed that the case of scalpels was slightly out of place.
In the evening, the police were in her own home.
The case had always sat on the mantel of the austere, black-veined marble fireplace that stood in the small sitting room just off Matilde's bedroom. She had put it there herself, the day the doctors from Santo Giovanni Hospital solemnly returned it to her. They had come as a delegation to give their condolences for her husband, who had died of a heart attack while he was operating on a patient. The case was made of mottled leather, with a silver buckle, and had belonged to Matilde's father for years. He had given it to Nanni on the day of their wedding as a token for good luck in his career and also as a gesture of gratitude because he was taking that taciturn, touchy young woman off his hands.
When the case was returned, Matilde had put it right in the middle of the fireplace mantel with the end of the buckle pointed toward an oblong black spot inthe marble. Since then, no one else had ever touched it. She could not stand to have strangers in her bedroom or the sitting room. So every morning she took a yellow dust cloth out of the bottom drawer of the desk in front of the window, preferring to dust every piece of furniture and every single item herself.
Now the case was out of place, with the buckle pointing at least a couple of inches away from the tip of the spot. Matilde stood there staring at it as if it were an omen. At first it was only a feeling, or a premonition, that tortured her the entire day, even though she kept telling herself over and over again that it was wrong to let herself think such terrible things. The loneliness was undoubtedly affecting her.
Matilde lived with her son, Enea, in a house that had become too big for the two of them alone after Nanni died. It was a beautiful, sprawling two-story home in San Domenico di Fiesole, painted a soft yellow with green shutters. The house was surrounded by a deep garden that isolated it from the street and by a hedge of boxwood that had been trimmed less and less over the years and now completely screened the building from view. When Nanni was alive, they used all the rooms in the house-the bedrooms on the second floor and the study, the living and sitting rooms, and large dining room on the main floor. Afterward, Matilde moved her bedroom and Enea's downstairs and had radiators installed just on the first floor.
There was a path to the house with four cypress trees on each side leading up to two flights of steps that branched off to the right and the left and opened onto a small, semicircular portico. The garden was divided into lots of kidney-shaped flower beds bordered by low stone walls and planted mostly with roses. But the most beautiful thing about the garden were the great, age-old trees. The garden was not particularly well kept, but not neglected either. There was an old man who came to pull out the weeds and fertilize the beds, and if needed, he added gravel to the path and the walkways between the flower beds. Matilde had never wanted to replace the gravel with something more permanent because for her it was like a guard dog that warned her about any unfamiliar footsteps.
That evening, though, it did not warn her about the two men who were approaching the house. If she had been in her bedroom, she would have heard it crunch under their feet, but she was at her desk in the sitting room, and the window faced the side of the house. When the doorbell rang, Matilde raised her head and listened, convinced she must have heard wrong. It had been years since she had had any visitors at her house in the evening. The doorbell rang again repeatedly and, it seemed to Matilde, insistently. At that point she got up, went into the bedroom, and looked outside, just slightly cracking the shutters. The old hinges squeaked lightly, and one of the two men turned around. "Police," he said.
Matilde pulled back from the windowsill and went to open the door. For all the time it took her to walk step by step across the bedroom and the sitting room and then down the stretch of hallway leading to the entry, it was still not enough to let her gather any thoughts. She acted automatically, without even asking herself if the two men might not really be who they said they were. She cracked the door just halfway open, keeping her body hidden behind the thick, reassuring wood and waiting for them to take the initiative. She could not have said how they managed to get into the house. One of them somehow slipped in between the door and the jamb. Just as she turned to look at him, the other one was inside too. They headed toward the sitting room, following the light.
"We need to speak with Enea Monterispoli," said the one who had come inside first. He had light brown hair with dark blond streaks and unusually restless dark eyes. "Is he a relative of yours?"
"My son," Matilde answered, motioning to indicate that at that point they might as well be seated. They remained standing. While one of them went over to the window, the other one went over to the desk and seized the household accounts that she had been going through when they arrived. He looked them over carefully, then put them down again.
Just then, Matilde was overcome by a deep sense of alarm. "What has my son done?" She immediately regretted the question, impulsively blurted out, and added, "What do you want with him?"
"Where is he?" the same policeman asked.
Matilde answered that he was not at home and she had no idea where he might be. For no reason she added, "My son is almost fifty years old." If someone had told her that in that moment she was distancing herself from Enea she would have been truly surprised.
The policemen were in their thirties. They had a couple of days growth of beard and their eyes were bloodshot. Tension seeped through their pores, spreading to Matilde.
"According to our information, Enea Monterispoli owns a gun. Where does he keep it?"
"I don't know anything about a gun," she lied, wondering how they could think she would betray her son. She was standing behind the small easy chair in the corner of the room, and kept herself from clenching her hands on the back of the chair.
"Tell him to show up at number 2 on via Zara by seven o'clock tomorrow evening. Homicide squad," the policeman ordered. All of a sudden he seemed to be in a hurry to leave. When she replied that surely she had a right to know something more, he answered, "You must have heard about the double homicide the other night. We need to talk with your son. It would be better for him if he didn't make us come back again." As he started to walk toward the hall he added, "Tell him to bring the gun too."
Then the second policeman spoke for the first time, and Matilde was taken aback. The man suddenly turned toward her. He looked her straight in the eye and said, "Where was your son the last few evenings? In particular, where was he on Friday?"
Matilde's hands were moist with perspiration. She wiped them on her skirt, forcing herself not to show she was afraid. "As I said, my son is almost fifty."
"Well, did he stay at home on Friday? Or did he go out? You must know that at least."
"But you see, when he's at home, my son ..." She was about to say that her son spent the evenings in the quarters above the lemon-tree room, and stopped herself just in time. "My son sleeps at the end of the hall," and she pointed to Enea's bedroom. "It's unlikely I'd hear him."
Then the first policeman came out with a remark that left her totally astonished. "We certainly wouldn't be the ones to force a mother to betray her son." It was as if he had read her mind. Matilde suddenly felt tired and vulnerable.
After they had gone, she prepared herself to wait. Enea often came home very late, but that night she would stay up. The house was furnished with solid pieces of antique furniture, some quite valuable, that creaked and moaned during the night as if they were alive. There was a dressing table in particular, where Matilde sat every morning to fix her hair and spread a dab of cream on her face. It had a crack running across it that barely showed at first but now stood out as if it had been carved by a knife. That was where she settled in to wait for her son. That was where she connected the scalpels that had been disturbed to the two policemen's visit.
That was also where she began to deeply resent Enea, because he had dragged those two men into her home, violating it with their presence. From that night on, it would never be the same again. It was as though they had brought inside the concrete reality of fear and violence, emotions that had never crossed that threshold before.
The young woman is the first one to notice the large shadow take shape and move toward the car. She is in the back seat, waiting for the young man to join her. In the front seat, bending over to look for the tissues under the dashboard, he feels her fingers clawing at his hair, jerks away to get free, and something scratches his skin. He is about to say "are you crazy?" but his girlfriend's scream is so loud and piercing it fills him with fear. He sees the shadow too. He fumbles to start the car and puts it into reverse. But he forgets the hand brake, and the car moves backward, lurching in violent jumps and starts.
The shadow raises one arm, aims, and fires at the windshield. It advances quickly, moving faster than the car. It reaches the car and puts one hand on the roof while continuing to shoot with the other one, this time inside the left window. The car jerks out of the emergency stop. It cuts across the road, gives one last lurch, and winds up nose down in the ditch on the opposite side.
The young man's body violently shudders three times, as each bullet hits him. One bullet drives into the muscles of his shoulder, the other two go straight into his head. The woman is hit in the forehead, and her only movement is convulsive and involuntary. The hand clutching at the man's hair, as if seeking protection, recoils. The buckle of her watch gets tangled in his hair, the band breaks, and the watch falls on the floor mat.
The huge shadow stops, rising to a height that the flashing beams from the headlights distort and elongate, projecting it onto the darkness beyond the rays of light. It looks enormous. It slips its hand through the shattered car window, rips the keys out of the ignition, and hurls them off into the bushes. Then it shoots again, this time at the headlights, the only witnesses to the crime.
The man does not linger to viciously attack the woman's body as he did the other times. He does not take out the knife to cut his victim's soft flesh as in the previous murders.
At the fourth to the last murder, he used the knife to try it out and test its effectiveness, haphazardly piercing and slicing the body, stripped from the neck to the thighs, sinking it into the heart and the liver. When he was sure how it worked, he knelt down religiously next to the lifeless body, with his head bent down so low it almost brushed against it. His hands moved by touch in the darkness, as he made a long cut from the right temple to the lip, then down to the chin, and then still further down to the breast, following its contour. Finally down to the pubis, along the outline of pubic hair. At this point he stopped, unable to make any real sense of his motions. Then he tore off a shoot from a vine bordering the field where he had dragged the young woman, and inserted it deep into her vagina, confusedly, as though exploring the consistency and depth.
At the third to the last murder, the knife moved more rapidly, conscious of its real objective and the line to follow. With three clean cuts it removed the pubis, which the man then brandished in his gloved hand, holding it up like a trophy in the darkness of night.
At the next to the last murder, after the ritual of the gun shots-increasingly clean and precise-the knife moved without hesitation, as if it had a life of its own. It cut the flesh from the pubis to the inside of the thighs, wedging it away from the fatty layer, preparing it for the hand that was already extended, so that it could tear it out and raise it high into the sky as a sign of victory. This time the man stayed long enough to reposition the young woman's body, joining her hands on her chest in an act of obscene piety.
At the last murder, the challenge to battle is between him and the young man. As man to man. The young man dared to try to escape his attack, but he proved he was the strongest. He prevented the escape. He blocked the car and completed the slaughter. When he ripped the keys out of the dashboard and hurled them into the dark, he was swept away by a sort of delirious omnipotence that fully satisfied him, extinguishing the drive to use the knife.
* * *
If she could have, Matilde would have erased the memory of the disturbed scalpels and the two policemen from her mind. Since that was impossible, she continued to wrack her brain, searching for the hidden meaning of the latest events. She had asked Enea if he had gone to the police and if he had taken the gun along, adding in a low voice that she had told those two men she did not know anything at all about a gun.
As far as it seemed, Enea had gone to the police and considered the matter cleared up. But Matilde was still worried about it. Why in the world had they looked for him of all people? They must have had some reason. The police certainly did not do things for no reason at all.
"In fact, they had a reason," replied Enea. "They're checking all of the registered guns, and Papa's gun is registered." Then he quickly changed the subject. Matilde's uneasiness did not disappear even when Enea, noticing the set expression on her face, told her again not to worry, everything was straightened out.
Right away, Matilde cautiously sounded him out about the scalpels. Was he the one who had touched them? Enea stared at her with his blue eyes for a few moments, without saying a word, and finally shook his head. That silent denial made her all the more anxious.
She broached the subject again a few nights later while they were having dinner. She led into the conversation on a general note, beginning with the unusual violence that had been rocking the city for some time.
"It doesn't really seem all that unique to me," Enea said. His tone became didactic, as it did whenever he talked with his mother. "The violence around today is just the same as before. Not because violence was born with humanity, as too many people maintain. It's that the human mind is no longer able to tolerate or resolve the tensions it's subjected to. When it reaches its limits, it can only be released through violence. If it can't be expressed collectively, it becomes individual."
In a burst of anger, Matilde's voice cracked. "Since the day I was born I have never heard of monsters that go around with a gun killing young people barely twenty years old. Not to mention the way the bodies of the young women were butchered. You can't tell me that's normal."
"No, it's not normal," said Enea, cutting the conversation short. "But since it's happening, it's possible."
Excerpted from Suspicion by Laura Grimaldi Copyright © 1989 by Laura Grimaldi. Excerpted by permission.
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