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GETTYAuthor Michele Giuttari says the policeman in his novels is himself
Michele Ferrara is the work-obsessed chief superintendent of the Florentine police.
His 18-hour days are fuelled by cigars and strong coffee.
Nights in his city centre apartment, in view of the iconic Ponte Vecchio, are spent poring over case notes, the sound of racing mopeds drifting up from the streets below.
Ferrara is the literary creation of Michele Giuttari, one of Europe’s most successful translated authors after Scandinavian crime novelists Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo.
The latest adventure of his chief superintendent, Death Under A Tuscan Sun, arrives here this month, having been (like Giuttari’s 11 previous books) bestsellers in his native Italy and on the Continent.
Across its pages, and the beautiful Tuscan hills, Giuttari weaves a complicated web of prison-breaks, murders, kidnapping, mafia connections and the occult.
Yet while the pace and scale of the horror may be geared to page-turning fiction, the author’s inspiration is often very real.
Giuttari, 64, has now retired from a 32-year career in the Italian police.
Joining the service in 1978, the Sicilian went on to serve in the Southern Italian region of Calabria, the city of Naples and then Florence, the regional capital of Tuscany.
He was sent to Florence as part of the anti-mafia squad after a city centre car bomb killed five people, injured 48 more and destroyed three paintings in the Uffizi art gallery.
The summer saw more bombs in Rome and Milan, a mob response to newly toughened prison conditions for convicted Mafiosi.
Giuttari remained in Florence, going on to head the city’s investigative police force until 2003.
“Ferrara is me,” he says.
“We have got closer and closer until in this latest book I think our characters overlap entirely.
"It meant I didn’t need to go and find someone else to follow for research.
“I was always known as very tough, even by the Mafiosi.”
Ferrara is me. We have got closer and closer until in this latest book I think our characters overlap entirely
As well as lending Ferrara his own character, Giuttari has shared his carefully honed approach to detective work: “He develops investigations in the way I did.
"It is a real method and one which makes the policeman the real motor of the case.
"Man must be at the centre of investigative work, with his professional experience, his intuitions,” insists Giuttari.
“The scientific input is important but I believe that alone it cannot solve a crime.
"We must continue to rely on the classic, tested methods of gathering evidence and respect the timescales of an investigation.”
His comments are pertinent to what is probably the most infamous case of recent Italian history: the murders from 1968 to 1985 of eight couples, surprised while seeking privacy in the countryside around Florence.
The victims were all killed with the same Beretta pistol; the women’s bodies mutilated.
In 1994 an itinerant farm worker, Pietro Pacciani, was convicted as the so-called Monster of Florence, but he subsequently made a successful appeal.
The case was re-opened under Giuttari’s direction and investigated as the work of a group of killers rather than a lone assassin.
In 1998 Mario Vanni and Giancarlo Lotti, acquaintances of Pacciani, were sentenced for their role.
Pacciani, who was also to be re-tried for the murders, died in suspicious circumstances before the case was heard.
Investigations were wound up, but in the opinion of Giuttari and a large part of the Italian public, the case has never been fully resolved.
Many believed the apparent suicide of a young doctor from a highly regarded family, who drowned in Umbria’s Lake Trasimeno weeks after the murders, was linked to the case, hinting at the involvement of powerful members of the Italian elite.
REXPietro Pacciani successfully appealed against his conviction for killing eight couples
“The case will never truly be resolved.
"It is too late.
"The investigation was blocked.
"There are crimes which can never be properly investigated because certain powers, untouchables, will do anything to ensure cases do not go ahead.
"That is a disgrace,” says Giuttari, who says he was driven, as always, by a need to find the truth “for the sake of the victims, their suffering families and a duty to serve the state until the end”.
His relationship with the Italian judiciary is now a complicated one.
In 2010 he was convicted of abuse of office (alongside Giuliano Mignini, the prosecutor in the Amanda Knox trial).
It was claimed the pair had persecuted those who opposed their theories.
The ruling was overturned the following year.
“In my career I was threatened, I suffered damages.
"My life, as with so many who investigate the mafia, was in danger, but ultimately my work was blocked by charges which were then completely discredited.”
He now mostly lives in Germany, in a house in a forest conducive to his writing.
His home near the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, “Ferrara’s house too”, is not.
“There I am constantly disturbed by traffic, tourists, chaos, mopeds.
"Florence is a place I love to go for a week but then I need to escape.”
Many of those tourists, he has observed, are British.
Our love affair with Tuscany is one which interests him and which he has exploited in his latest book where the beautiful villa of a British aristocrat is at the centre of the investigation.
“I see this fascination with the countryside, the nature, even the food.
"In these respects Tuscany merits its reputation.
"Of course there can be a dark side too.
“The roots of the mafia are so deep.
"It has insinuated itself into the world of finance and economy.
"It has globalised and to fight it more effectively we need uniform international legal standards.”
While this anti-mafia battle took Giuttari to Florence he remains drawn to the Italian south of his childhood.
“The Italian character really does vary across the regions.
"The heart beats differently in the south.
"There is more heat and passion, more human warmth, sincerity and altruism.”
It was this which informed his ambitions: “As a young boy I wanted to be a police commissioner.
"I wanted to do my part for society.
"The police was my second family and investigating was my way of life.
"It is not an easy choice but I would do it all over again.”
- Death Under A Tuscan Sun by Michele Giuttari (Little, Brown, £14.99) is published on March 5. To order your copy, call the Express Bookshop on 08771 434 6091 or visit expressbookshop.co.uk.