City of Devils, by Diana Bretherick

Review published on September 10, 2013.Reviewed by jj redfearn

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Its 1887 and a vicious serial killer is on the loose in Turin. Victims are left mutilated in prominent places in the city, complete with warning notes written in their own blood. Victims who have, at one time or another, been subjects of the great Professore Cesare Lombroso.

Lombroso, based on the real Professor of the same name, is one of those Victorian academics who studied and measured criminal’s physical characteristics. He firmly believed that people who resembled primitive man would be natural born criminals and no evidence beyond their physical measurements would be needed to establish their guilt in whatever crime they were suspected. With today’s sensibilities it seems like nonsense, yet that same pseudo-science has developed into the profiling used globally by police forces today.

Lombroso’s colleagues and acquaintances all have strong feeling about him. He’s one of those people that are either liked and helped, or loathed and hindered. His ablest supporters are skeptical about his ideas, his detractors downright scathing. He has had a knack of alienating people, often by saying what he thinks when what he thinks is less than flattering. In return they take every opportunity to try to humiliate him.

Pretty obvious then that the reluctant Lombroso should be expected to apply his own stereotyping methods to the list of suspects and identify the killer. It is complicated a bit by his being the prime suspect.

The cast includes, amongst numerous others:
Murray, a thoughtful and responsible student from Edinburgh, infatuated with Sophia;
Sophia, Lombruso’s beautiful and enigmatic ex-prostitute housekeeper;
Tullio, an inexperienced but resourceful member of the public security police;
Machinetti, a pompous excitable buffoon and senior officer in the Carabinieri;
Horton, an unpleasant and decidedly suspicious cigar-smoking American Alienist; and
DeClichy, a French academic interested in the social causes of crime.

In a magical series of ironic twists all Bretherick’s characters are caricatures of themselves, the plot is like one of Conan Doyles’, whatever is whispered in Lombroso’s ear stays there and the ending is more Agatha Christie even than Agatha Christie.


An extract from It Happens in the Dark, by Carol O’Connell


Read an extract from Lachlan Smith’s debut novel, Bear is Broken

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