The Memory Key
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing
Date Published01 August 2013
Price£ 11.99

The Memory Key

by Conor Fitzgerald


Commissioner Alec Blume of the Rome State Police is asked by his friend Magistrate Principe to look into the murder of Sofia Fontana. Lines of enquiry naturally focus on Sofia’s witness to the recent shooting of Stephania Manfellotto, a terrorist responsible for a horrific railway bombing in 1980.

Blume’s task is complicated by several problems, not the least of which is his lack of authority in the case and objections from his superiors to his intervention. He is also at a difficult stage in his relationship with Caterina, who is maddened by Blume’s inability to make a mature commitment or even communicate, and concerned about Principe, who is in the last stages of a terminal illness.  Despite his distractions, however, Blume is observant and clear thinking, and makes progress in directions that other agencies have overlooked.

This is a clever and complex book, with various areas of interest. Blume is an interesting but solitary character with few friends, and even with them plays his cards close to his chest. Although the reader is privy to Blume’s actions and some of his thoughts, there is still a degree of distance to him so that it is necessary to fill in some gaps about his emotions and deductions about the case. Blume is a prickly character and not always likeable, but since his flaws make him his own worst enemy it is difficult not to empathise. Parts of the book are seen from Caterina’s perspective, and provide a better understanding of what a difficult man he would be to live with.

As Blume moves ahead with his investigations, there’s an insight into the darker underbelly of Italian public life, such as the relationships between the different policing agencies, as well as the police and politicians, the conflicts of interest, and ways that things get done. It comes as a bit of a shock to find the protagonist interfering with a witness to a murder, to engineer an outcome more in line with his own concept of justice. We meet people involved in the terrible atrocities committed in the name of social justice in the 1980s, which the court system never brought to book, and who went on to have successful careers notwithstanding their known complicity.

The loner with a sour take on life is not uncommon in crime fiction, but Conor Fitzgerald’s Alec Blume is more convincing than most. In this, the latest in the series, The Memory Key refers to a system for retaining information which a suspect claims to have pioneered. Blume’s scepticism does not prevent him using what he reads to advantage. His skill in solving the puzzles presented by his cases makes a striking contrast to his ineptitude in personal relationships – and that is what makes him so interesting.

Reviewed 30 November 2013 by Chris Roberts