The Sleeping Nymph / Painted in Blood by Ilaria Tuti, Book Review
Ilaria Tuti’s The Sleeping Nymph (aka Painted in Blood) is a criminally good character-driven crime thriller and uniquely captivating historical mystery in translation. Read on for our full review.
The Sleeping Nymph Book Synopsis
In the highly anticipated follow-up to Flowers Over the Inferno, Superintendent Teresa Battaglia, expert criminal profiler with four decades of experience on the Italian police force, returns for a chilling cold case.
A decades-old murder investigation has landed on Superintendent Teresa Battaglia’s desk. DNA analysis has revealed that a painting from the final days of World War II contains matter from a human heart. Teresa is able to trace the evidence to Val Resia, one of Italy’s most isolated, untouched regions.
When Teresa’s investigation hits too close to the truth, a fresh human heart is hung at the valley’s entrance, a warning not to cross its threshold. As she hunts a ruthless killer, Teresa must face down her own rapidly deteriorating physical and cognitive abilities, as well as someone she hoped never to see again—a man who has just become her supervisor.
Translated from the Italian by Erin Oklap
(Soho Press – September 2020 US; published as Painted In Blood by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in the UK)
Genre: Crime-Detective, Thriller, Historical, Mystery, Translation
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The Sleeping Nymph is an intoxicating, uniquely captivating crime thriller.
Ilaria Tuti’s leading lady (although don’t dare call her that) Superintendent Teresa Battaglia is just wonderful. She’s the insightful real-world mature woman that readers have been crying out for. A tough-nut shaped by her profession and life experiences that is authentically brimming with compassion and fears; fears of her declining capacity to do the work she thrives on and support those that have come to rely on her.
Teresa felt exhausted, as if the day’s exertions had finally caught up with her the moment she had got back into the car and shut the valley out. All emotions came with a physical weight: she knew this for a fact. They could crush your heart and your body, and they burdened your back no matter how strong your shoulders were. Teresa was like a sponge, soaking up the mood of the world around her, making its light and its shadows her own. She had absorbed plenty of darkness so far, but somehow she had managed to convert most of it into fire, and a burning appetite for life. The darkness had sunk to the depths of her soul and she had learned to live with it, to treat it like a poison best left undisturbed.
The Sleeping Nymph is highly character-driven, just as much about the characters who seek to unravel the criminal mystery as the crimes being investigated. The loyalty amongst Teresa’s rag-tag investigative team, their personal story arcs and their determination in the face of strident opposition and derision is more than heartwarming; it’s deeply moving. Their friendly sparing and sarcastic banter really appealed to me also.
But do not for one moment think The Sleeping Nymph‘s criminal plot is anything less than impressive also. The criminal acts themselves are certainly confronting, but the tentacles of history behind them are weighty and complex, and the haunting echoes from the past stirring. The characters themselves describe the subject of their investigation a ‘dark fairytale from the past’.
Ilaria Tuti beguiles readers with uncommonly verdant prose that lends a larger-than-life quality to everything depicted – historical objects, structures, flora and fauna, including the human variety. It’s almost as though she (and talented translator Erin Oklap) have sprinkled this tale with pixie dust. This, when Teresa is reflecting on the under-resourcing of ‘cold-cases’:
After the blood dries up, Justice is never in any rush to strike her sword: the scales of her balance remain suspended, and her blindfold falls just loose enough for her to look around and find fresher tragedies to set her hounds on.
And this, one of many evocative opening passages for scenes in the heavily-wooded Resian Valley:
A fierce wind was blowing, heavy with moisture. The sun was covered by a frothy cloud whose shape kept changing and casting its tentacular shadow across the valley. The shadow crept along the mountain slopes and the river bed like the hand of a giant, raking its fingers through the soil, emitting shivers of cold, stealing warmth from the rocks, and sending the animals of the valley scampering back to their dens.
I found this combination of an outstanding female lead, ensemble cast originality and chutzpah, complex criminal mystery, and passionate prose enthralling.
If you too are intrigued by the echoes of history and admire literary turns-of-phrase and achingly-real characters, then Ilaria Tuti’s The Sleeping Nymph should be the next book on your reading pile.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
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If you like the sound of this international crime fiction, you may also enjoy:
The American by Nadia Dalbuono (Leone Scamarcio #2) / Brenner and God by Wolf Haas / The Plotters by Un-su Kim / Fatal Crossing by Lone Theils / The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Reviews for Book 1, Flowers Over The Inferno
(aka The Man In The Woods)
Superintendent Teresa Battaglia, a criminal profile expert, is in her sixties, overweight, lonely, diabetic, full of the ailments of ageing – and delightful. It’s rare that such a character enters crime fiction for the first time, and with such gripping impact. – Marcel Berlins, The Times (Crime Book of the Month)
“Fasten your seatbelts: Teresa Battaglia is one of the best characters I’ve come across in a long, long time . . . She does not suffer fools gladly, but you will seldom ever find a character who has more empathy and compassion.” – Kittling Books
Exhilarating… Teresa Battaglia, who must deal with casual and constant sexism in her position of authority, is an unforgettable character readers will want to see a lot more of. – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
One of the best parts of Flowers Over the Inferno is the older, gruff superintendent Teresa Battaglia. She is out of shape, diabetic and busy fighting the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease – on top of handling a complex case. We sympathise with Battaglia quite naturally, and it’s nice to see a cop who isn’t slim and sexy chasing after serial killers. – NPR
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About the Author, Ilaria Tuti
Ilaria Tuti lives in Gemona del Friuli, in the province of Udine. She has a degree in economics, has always had a passion for painting, and freelances for a small independent publisher in her spare time. She won the 2014 Gran Giallo Città di Cattolica literary prize for her short story “The Pagan Child.” Flowers over the Inferno (Book 1, Teresa Battaglia Series, aka The Man in the Woods) was her debut novel, and The Sleeping Nymph (aka Painted in Blood) her highly anticipated follow-up.
About the Translator, Ekin Oklap
Ekin Oklap was born in Turkey, and grew up in Italy. She translates from Turkish and Italian. She currently lives in London, where she works as a literary agent. As a translator, she was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.
* Receiving a copy from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.