A Cold Flame by Aidan Conway
Review to follow
Play with fire and you get burned…
A gripping crime thriller, from a new star in British crime fiction. Perfect for fans of Ian Rankin.
Five men burnt alive.
In the crippling heat of August in Rome, a flat goes up in flames, the doors sealed from the outside. Five illegal immigrants are trapped and burnt alive – their charred bodies barely distinguishable amidst the debris.
One man cut into pieces.
When Detective Inspectors Rossi and Carrara begin to investigate, a terror organisation shakes the city to its foundations. Then a priest is found murdered and mutilated post-mortem – his injuries almost satanic in their ferocity.
One city on the edge of ruin.
Rome is hurtling towards disaster. A horrifying pattern of violence is beginning to emerge, with a ruthless killer overseeing its design. But can Rossi and Carrara stop him before all those in his path are reduced to ashes?
The few flowers left in the chipped vase had withered to dry brown stalks in the searing August
“You’re still sure this falls within our brief?” said Carrara as they stared at the cold,
charred remains of the ground floor flat. All the bodies had now been removed but their
“It’s another fire, isn’t it?” said Rossi. “Probably arson. Why not?”
It was not the first fire in the city to bear the hallmarks of foul play, but it was the first
fatal one since they had been moved off their normal duties.
They were standing in the welcome shade of the elevated section of the tangenziale
flyover, on a side street off the busy, grimy Via Prenestina. It was hot, cripplingly hot. Thin
rivulets of sweat were meandering down Rossi’s neck despite the shade.
“Even if there’s a file on this one already?” said Carrara. “A file that’s as good as closed.”
Rossi shook his head and continued to gaze into the blackened ruins.
“It’s August. You can get away with murder in August. Who was on it again?”
Carrara leafed through the case notes.
“No one I know. A guy called Lallana. Had a racial homicide’s brief. Seconded to us in
June and then transferred out again, at his own request, now buzzing all over the place with
Europol. I got hold of him by phone but he wasn’t keen on talking. Says it’s all in the reports
and he’s got nothing more to add.”
“Giving you the brush-off?”
“He had it down as a hate crime – seems the victims were all foreigners – but not a single,
solid lead. No witnesses, just the one guy who survived it.”
“A survivor?” said Rossi.
“Was. Dead now. Had 60 per cent burns. Should have been long gone but somehow hung
on for nearly a week.”
“And all while I was on holiday,” said Rossi.
“You can’t be everywhere, Mick,” said Carrara glancing up from the notes. “I mean a
break was merited, after Marini.”
Rossi’s thoughts turned then to the events of the previous winter but as his shoes crunched
on the ash and scorched timbers he was still struggling to comprehend the present horror.
Shooting, strangling, stabbing – that was one thing – but burning to death. They must have
been locked inside when the fire started. Some might have woken but had been unable to get
to a door or a window, the security grilles put there ostensibly to keep them safe from intruders
thus consigning them to their fates.
“But why wasn’t anyone able to get out?” said Rossi. “Because they locked their room
doors every night?”
“Correct,” said Carrara. “Normal practice in bedsits, but no keys for the security grilles
were found, not even after a fingertip search.”
“What about the front door?” said Rossi. “Couldn’t they have got out with their own keys?
They all had one, right?”
Carrara took out a blown-up scene-of-crime photo.
“The lock. Tampered with, the barrel and mechanism all mangled up. Some debris was
found inside. It could have been someone forcing it – an attempted break-in – or it could have
been sabotage. The occupants might have been able to open it from the inside to escape, if they
had managed to reach the door, but the bolts were still in place. Nobody could get in until the
fire guys arrived and then it was too late.”
“And their forensics?” said Rossi.
“Well,” said Carrara, “significant traces of ethanol – one version of the facts is that there
was a moonshine vodka operation – and they did find the remains of a timer switch next to the
burnt-out fridge. Lallana maintained it could have been foul play, or just as easily some home
brew electrical set-up that shorted. He didn’t exactly go all out for the former theory. In the
absence of a clear motive and witnesses the coroner delivered an open verdict. Have a look for
Carrara handed Rossi the relevant report.
“Open?” said Rossi noting now with near contempt the irony. “Someone locked those
poor bastards inside.”
“Like I said, no keys for the window bars were found but no one lived long enough to tell
Among the scorched masonry and fallen timbers, one of the grilles lay across the small
desert of debris, like the ribcage of a once living and breathing being strewn across a bleak
“Any names?” said Rossi.
“Just the one,” said Carrara. “The tough nut. Ivan Yovoshenko. He was found in the
communal bathroom and had dog tags from his conscription days. But for them he would have
been a zero like the rest. It seems he had at least tried to get out, got severely burnt in the
process and maybe finally sought refuge in the bathroom. He could have struck his head and
collapsed. Judging from the amount of alcohol they found in his bloodstream, he had to have
been blind drunk and wouldn’t have realized just how hot the flames were. It was enough for
him to survive as long as he did.”
“And nothing on the others?”
“Nothing,” said Carrara.
“Well, they can forget checking dental records,” said Rossi. “These guys could probably
just about afford toothpaste.”
Carrara pulled out another sheet for Rossi.
“Presumed missing persons in Rome and Lazio for the last six months, but no matches
with this address. The word on the street is that they were five single men, probably illegals,
but anymore than that …”
“Sounds familiar,” said Rossi. “But no friends, no workmates?”
Carrara gestured to the desiccated blooms and a brown, dog-eared farewell note or two.
“Paid their respects then made themselves scarce, I suppose,” said Carrara. “If it’s a racial
hate killing they were probably thinking ‘who’s next’?”
“But a landlord?” said Rossi, sensing an opening. “Tell me we have an owner’s name.”
But Carrara was already quashing that hope with another printout from the case folder.
“Flat sold to a consortium two months ago as part of a portfolio of properties, a sort of
going concern with cash-in-hand rents through an established ‘agent’ who hasn’t been seen
since the fire.”
“That’s convenient,” quipped Rossi.
“Says here they always sent an office bod to pick up the cash in a nearby bar and the go
between got his room cheap as well as his cut. No contracts. No paper trail. No nothing.”
“And no name for the agent?”
“That narrows it down. And the bar? Anyone there remember him’?”
“North African. About fifty.”
“Great,” said Rossi. “Well, it looks like the late Ivan’s our only man, doesn’t it? Let’s see
what the hospital can give us.”
“And then a trip to the morgue?”
“You know, Gigi, I was almost beginning to miss going there.”
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