Rummaging around for her keys, Andrada Vasiliu wishes she’d put them in the zippered pocket of her handbag. It turns out to be a fatal mistake, and her murder the start of a killing spree centred around the Carpathian city of Brașov with seemingly no connection between the victims. Gigi, the forensic pathologist assisting the local police force, understands that discerning the criteria by which the victims are chosen is crucial. It should enable the police to get one step ahead. Ironically, once the ingenious puzzle, rooted in Greek mythology, is finally cracked, it does and it doesn’t. For Gigi and the team are pitted against a perpetrator who is very creative in the interpretation of his own rules.
Tony Mott interweaves the crimes with the police investigation. All the elements of police procedural are here; crime-scene forensics, pathology, conversations with the bereaved, press interviews, long hours, bought-in burgers and chips. There is additional messiness within the team itself: Matei, the local police chief, is struggling not only with the complications of boss/employee dynamics with his lover, Alina, but also with the threat of being sidelined by the previous incumbent of his post, Vlad, currently on secondment from Bucharest. Then Gigi herself is being pressured by Vlad to resume their affair. Her reluctance, despite an enduring physical attraction, is well explained by her memories of the harassment and betrayal she experienced during their break-up.
Gigi’s anxiety, though, is more deep-rooted. Flashbacks reveal her parents’ troubled relationship and her teenage self-harming habits. Yet she has clawed herself out of that downward spiral and into a successful career (though one capable of inflicting further mental damage). So what if she buoys her mood with her eclectic, colourful clothing choices from time to time?
Her (albeit vulnerable) resilience is a lesson for the perpetrator. Although professionally successful, he fails to overcome his personal trauma and resulting delusion. Nevertheless, he remains high-functioning and his crimes are meticulously planned. Mott presents these individually and from different points of view. When presented from the victim’s perspective, death calls unexpectedly, but never without the reader sharing the terror. When presented from the perpetrator’s, the method in his madness is spine-chillingly transparent. Although these murderous episodes are short and sharp, the victims are never ciphers, Mott always providing their backstories in respect to their humanity.
In placing the majority of the crime scenes in Brașov and its suburbs, a portrait of a very attractive city emerges (events notwithstanding). This backdrop enhances a novel that fascinates through its clever puzzle and psychological depth. Deadly Autumn Harvest is a more traditional crime novel than the Romanian political thrillers Corylus Books has previously brought to the Anglophone world; the publisher hoping it to be more attuned to British tastes. I want the novel to be successful so that Marina Sofia is kept busy translating the other novels in the quartet. I want to know exactly what went down between Gigi and Vlad!
Reviewed by Lizzy Siddal
DEADLY AUTUMN HARVEST
by Tony Mott
Translated from Romanian by Marina Sofia
Published by Corylus Books (2023)
September 2023 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.
(An interview with the translator is available on Lizzy’s Literary Life (Volume Two).)
Lizzy Siddal is a British bibliophile and book blogger of sixteen years. She publishes her reviews at Lizzy’s Literary Life (Volume Two) where she co-hosts Reading Independent Publishers Month each February and German Literature Month each November.
Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of HER MOTHER’S HANDS by Karmele Jaio
Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of THE LIQUID LAND by Raphaela Edelbauer
Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of RESILIENCE by Bogdan Hrib
Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of A GUARDIAN ANGEL RECALLS by Willem Frederik Hermans
Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of THE BLACKSMITH’S DAUGHTER by Selim Özdoğan
Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of TYLL by Daniel Kehlmann
Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of DARK SATELLITES by Clemens Meyer
Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of THE EIGHTH LIFE by Nino Haratischvili
Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of MISSING OF CLAIRDELUNE by Christelle Dabos
Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of DREAMERS: WHEN THE WRITERS TOOK POWER – GERMANY 1918 by Volker Weidermann
Read Lizzy Siddal’s #Riveting Review of THE MENTOR by Daniel Kehlmann