Tobias Jones on Blood on the Altar

Article published on March 6, 2013.

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Blood on the Altar is the true story of a 16 year-old girl who went missing in 1993 in a church in Potenza, in the deep south of Italy. Elisa Claps had met a young man, Danilo Restivo, one Sunday morning but had then vanished without a trace. Her family were convinced that Restivo, a strange boy with a fetish for cutting women’s hair on the back of buses, was responsible. He had a cut to his hand and a far-fetched alibi. But Restivo was inexplicably protected by local big-wigs: by his Sicilian father, by the priest of the church who had vices of his own, by a doctor with rumoured links to organised crime. Years went by and Elisa’s family could only find false leads. There were sightings and tip-offs and attempted extortions.

By 2002 Restivo had moved to Bournemouth. In November that year his next door neighbour was murdered and mutilated and strands of hair put in both of her hands. But once again, the police could pin nothing on him. It was only in 2010, when Elisa’s decomposed body was found, that the pieces of the jigsaw finally began to fit together.

A sequel to the bestselling The Dark Heart of Italy, Blood on the Altar is more than just a gripping true crime story. It’s a portrait of Basilicata, the most remote and fascinating region in Italy; it’s an investigation into why Italy appears to offer impunity to the powerful; it’s a hunt for a serial killer; and most of all it’s an appreciation of one courageous and determined family who refused to accept the injustice of Italian society.

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