Blood on the Altar

Tobias Jones

Blood on the Altar

One Sunday morning in 1993 a 16-year-old girl named Eliza Claps goes missing from a church in the centre of Potenza, Italy. Shortly before her disappearance, Elisa had met Danilo Restivo, a strange local boy with a fetish for cutting women's hair on the back of buses. Elisa's family are convinced that Resitvo is responsible for their daughter's disappearance, but he is protected by local big-wigs: by his Sicilian father, by a doctor with links to organised crime, by a priest who had vices of his own. Years went by and Elisa's family could find only false leads. 2002, and Restivo is now living in Bournemouth. In November that year, his neighbour is found murdered, with strands of her own hair in her hands. Once again the police are at a loss to pin anything on him. It's not until 2010, when Elisa's decomposed body is found in the church where she went missing, that the two cases are linked and Restivo is finally dealt with. Blood on the Altar combines a gripping true crime case with an analysis of Italian culture and the impunity it offers to the powerful. 3.7 out of 5 based on 3 reviews
Blood on the Altar

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre True Crime
Format Hardback
Pages 336
RRP £16.99
Date of Publication March 2012
ISBN 978-0571274932
Publisher Faber & Faber
 

One Sunday morning in 1993 a 16-year-old girl named Eliza Claps goes missing from a church in the centre of Potenza, Italy. Shortly before her disappearance, Elisa had met Danilo Restivo, a strange local boy with a fetish for cutting women's hair on the back of buses. Elisa's family are convinced that Resitvo is responsible for their daughter's disappearance, but he is protected by local big-wigs: by his Sicilian father, by a doctor with links to organised crime, by a priest who had vices of his own. Years went by and Elisa's family could find only false leads. 2002, and Restivo is now living in Bournemouth. In November that year, his neighbour is found murdered, with strands of her own hair in her hands. Once again the police are at a loss to pin anything on him. It's not until 2010, when Elisa's decomposed body is found in the church where she went missing, that the two cases are linked and Restivo is finally dealt with. Blood on the Altar combines a gripping true crime case with an analysis of Italian culture and the impunity it offers to the powerful.

Reviews

The Sunday Telegraph

Nicholas Shakespeare

Although he can sound at times as though he is clearing his throat to sing opera, Jones paints a rich portrait of Basilicata and its history. He is less sure-footed on his home turf, where justice is meted out. He describes Winchester, inadequately, as “one of those old towns that seems soaked in history”. His truest and most involving note is his raw bellow for justice. More than his credentials as a travel writer, Jones’s faithful obsession to know what happened to Elisa, and to link it to the wider corruption of Silvio Berlusconi’s regime, is what raises his book almost to the same shelf as Peter Robb’s magnificent Midnight in Sicily and Helen Garner’s Joe Cinque’s Consolation. It is a terribly good, terribly sad story that probably only Jones, with a foothold in both countries, could have written.

20/02/2012

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The Sunday Times

John Carey

As if all [the case] were not confusing enough, Jones garnishes his account of Elisa’s murder with a bewildering assortment of killings, disappearances and stomach-turning mafia outrages that happened in southern Italy at roughly the same time, claiming that they give an insight into the “criminal backdrop” of the case. They may; but equally they may be irrelevant to Restivo’s weird activities. A chapter on the history, languages and flora of Lucania, the province in which Potenza lies, also looks as if it has strayed into the narrative from somewhere else. However, it is so engaging, and so full of knowledge and curiosity, that it turns out to be one of the book’s highlights, comparable with the account of Jones’s growing friendship with the Claps family. It is a grim story he has chosen to tell, but what lifts it out of simple horror is his passionate, inquisitive entanglement with a country he both loves and despairs of.

19/02/2012

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The Financial Times

Ian Thomson

Blood on the Altar is a gripping if at times rather drawn-out book. Jones plumps out his account with descriptions of Basilicata’s ancient Greek temples and the cave-like dwellings at Matera. Admirably, however, he uses the Elisa Claps case to illustrate wider social problems in Italy, such as a deepening political unease and a mafia-style culture of entitlement.

02/03/2012

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