The body of an aging man is found in the early hours of Saturday morning in the Piazza De’ Renzi. It’s not clear whether the cause of death is an accident or murder, but a mugger has been operating in the area preying on tourists. It turns out the man is Irish, but has been living in Rome for years. Henry Treacy describes himself as imitator rather than forger, but he is well known to Carabiniere Art Forgery and Heritage Division and Colonel Farinelli. The case is originally assigned to Commissioner Alec Blume, an American who has risen through the ranks of the Italian police system, but Farinelli moves to push Blume aside. Blume is not so easily shifted, especially after he starts to read Treacy’s memoirs written out in three notebooks. Ordered to drop the case, Blume and Inspector Caterina Mattiola carry on regardless, convinced there is more at stake than discovering why Treacy’s body was lying dead in a Rome square.
The Fatal Touch has a lot going for it. It has a strong, intricate plot, with a disparate range of characters and several cleverly interwoven strands. It is clearly based on a lot of research around art forgery and the art world, and procedurally it seems realistic. The narrative is culturally sensitive and portrays a good sense of place with respect to Rome. And it is generally very well written with some lovely prose. The notebooks of Henry Treacy are particularly nicely drafted. Despite all the good stuff, I do however have two concerns. The first is that the novel is overly long. My sense is that a good ten thousand words, and probably twice that, could be cut from the script and a reader would not notice. In fact, it would increase the tension a little and make the book more of a page turner. As it is, the start is slow and it takes a while to get going and there is a lot of superfluous description and dialogue, much of it nicely written, but not needed for the story. Second, Alec Blume seemed a little characterless to me. As the leading character, I never got the sense as to what made him tick or felt there was any real depth or range to him. It's almost as if he's a blank foil for more colourful characters surrounding him. Overall though The Fatal Touch is a very competent police procedural, with loads of technical and procedural detail, and an enjoyable plot.