Read an excerpt from Who Shot the Mayor by Jeffrey Archer

Master Storyteller Jeffrey Archer Returns With Who Killed The Mayor

Master Storyteller Jeffrey Archer Returns With Who Killed The Mayor (Image: Rob Murray)

Cortoglia is a picturesque town in the heart of the Italian region of Campania. It sits on top of a hill 40 miles north of Naples, with stunning views of Mount Taburno to the east and Vesuvius to the south, and has been described, simply, as ‘Heaven on Earth’. The population of the city is 1463 and has not varied much for more than a century.

The city’s income comes from three main sources: wine, olive oil and truffles. Aromatic with vibrant acidity, the Cortoglia White is one of the most sought after wines on Earth, exhausted long before it was bottled.

As for olive oil, the only reason you never see a bottle in your local supermarket is because many top Michelin-starred restaurants won’t consider allowing any other brand on their premises.

The plus, which allows locals to enjoy a standard of living envied by their neighbors, are their truffles. Restaurateurs travel from all corners of the world in search of the Cortoglia truffle.

It is true that some people have left Cortoglia and have sought their fortunes further afield, but the most sensible return rather quickly. The town has only half a dozen shops and one restaurant. The council would not sanction more for fear that it could attract tourists.

There is no train service, and a bus appears once a week for those foolish enough to wish to travel to Naples. The city is run by the Consiglio Comunale, made up of six elders. The youngest member, whose lineage only goes back three generations, is not considered by all to be a local.

The mayor, Salvatore Farinelli, his son Lorenzo Farinelli, Mario Pellegrino, the manager of the olive oil company, Paolo Carrafini, the owner of the winery, and Pietro De Rosa, the truffle master, are automatically members of the council.

The only remaining seat is up for election every five years. Since no one had opposed Umberto Cattaneo, the local butcher, for the past 15 years, voters had all but forgotten how to run an election.

The Polizia Locale consisted of a single officer, Luca Gentile, whose authority derived from the city of Naples, and Luca tried not to disturb them unnecessarily. This story refers to the only occasion when it was necessary.

No one could be sure where Dino Lombardi had come from but, like a black cloud, he appeared overnight and was clearly more interested in storms than squalls. With the build of a heavyweight boxer who didn’t expect his fights to last more than a couple of rounds, he began his reign of terror on the town’s underdogs.

He convinced the shopkeepers, the local merchants, and the restaurateur that they needed protection, though they couldn’t be sure from whom, since there had been no serious crime in Cortoglia in living memory.

To be fair, Agent Gentile would be retiring in a few months at the age of 65, and the council hadn’t gotten around to finding his replacement. But an additional problem arose when Salvatore Farinelli, the mayor, died at the age of 102 and an election had to be held to replace him. His son Lorenzo was supposed to succeed him.

That was until Lombardi showed up at City Hall and put his name on the mayoral ticket.

Still, no one doubted that Lorenzo Farinelli would win by a landslide, so it came as a surprise when the town clerk, on crutches and his left leg in a cast, announced that Lombardi had obtained 511 votes, compared to Farinelli’s 486.

There was a gasp of disbelief from the crowd, especially since no one knew anyone who had voted for Lombardi. However, he immediately took over the ayuntamiento, occupied the mayor’s residence, and dismissed the cabildo.

He had only been in office for a few days when the citizens were informed that he would impose a sales tax on the three main businesses in the city, which was later extended to the merchants and restaurateur.

And if that wasn’t enough, he began demanding bribes from both buyers and sellers. Within a year, Heaven on Earth had turned into Hell on Earth. So, frankly, it came as no surprise to anyone when Lombardi was murdered, just before Christmas.

Agent Gentile told the council that the murder was out of his hands, so he would have to inform the authorities in Naples. He admitted that there were 1,462 suspects and that he had no idea who had committed the crime. Naples, a city that knows a thing or two about murder, sent one of its brightest young detectives to investigate the crime, to find and arrest the culprit.

The case was assigned to Antonio Rossetti, who at the tender age of 32 had recently been promoted to lieutenant.

I already knew Lombardi’s background; extortion, bribery and corruption were just some of his crimes. He assured his police chief that he would finish the case as quickly as possible and be home by Christmas.

However, it didn’t help that Luca Gentile was missing. Some suggested that he suffered from stress since the last murder in the city had been in 1846, when his great-great-grandfather had been a city constable.

Either way, Gentile was the only other person who knew how the mayor had been killed. Lombardi had been cremated and his ashes scattered within hours of his death.

“So you, Gentile and the coroner are the only people who know how the murder was committed,” the Naples police chief told his young lieutenant as he handed over the autopsy results.

“And the murderer,” Rossetti reminded him tartly.

Antonio arrived in Cortoglia later that morning and took up residence in the local police station, which consisted of a small room, an unoccupied cell, and a bathroom. He took the corresponding case files from his bag and placed them on the desk. He looked at the large, empty board on the wall and placed a photograph of Lombardi in the center.

So he decided to wander the town, where council workers were putting up banners and erecting a huge Christmas tree in the public square, hoping someone would approach him with information.

But even though he walked slowly and smiled a lot, people would cross the street when they saw him as if he had some contagious disease. After a fruitless morning, Antonio returned to his office and made a list of the people who had the most to gain from Lombardi’s death, concluding that he would have to start with the members of the Consiglio Comunale.

She wrote Wine, Olive Oil and Truffles on her notepad and took the photographs of the five councilors from the file, pasting them around Lombardi’s photo.

He decided to start with Truffles. She called Signor De Rosa’s office later that afternoon.

“So how can I help you?” asked Signor de Rosa. “I was hoping it might shed some light on who killed Dino Lombardi.” Antonio said.

“I certainly can. You need look no further, Lieutenant, because I killed Lombardi.”

Antonio was taken by surprise, but delighted to have a confession on his first day. He was already thinking about packing his bags and returning to Naples in time to celebrate Christmas with his family.

“You know, Mr. De Rosa, that if you confess to the murder, I will have no choice but to arrest you and take you to Naples, where you will stand trial and could spend the rest of your life in prison.” in Poggioreale?”

“I’ve thought of little else since the day I murdered the bastard. But I can’t complain, I’ve had a good life.”

“Why did you kill Lombardi?” asked Antonio, who accepted that almost always the motive explained any crime.

“Dino Lombardi was an evil and ruthless man, Lieutenant, who took advantage of everyone he came in contact with. If he had been allowed to continue much longer, he would have put us all out of business. Last year my small business made a loss for the first time in 300 years. So I took it upon myself to rid my fellow citizens of the devil.”

He smiled. “I heard that the council plans to build a statue of me in the town square.”

“I just have one more question,” the detective said, looking up from his notebook. “How did you kill Lombardi?” “I stabbed him with my truffle knife,” De Rosa said without hesitation. “He seemed appropriate at the time.”

Antonio stopped writing and closed his notebook. I’m sure he knows, Signor De Rosa, that it is a serious crime to waste police time.

“Of course, Lieutenant,” De Rosa said. But now that I’ve confessed, you can arrest me, drag me to Naples, and throw me in jail.

“Which I would gladly do, signor,” Antonio said, “if only Lombardi had been stabbed.”

The truffle master shrugged. “Does it really matter? Just tell me how Lombardi was killed and I’ll confess to the crime.”

This was the first time Antonio had met someone who had admitted to a crime they had not committed. “I’ll go, signor, before you get into any more trouble,” he said.

The truffle master looked disappointed. Antonio closed his notebook, stood up, left De Rosa’s shop, and returned to the square without saying another word. He was going back to the police station when he saw a drug store and remembered that he needed a bar of soap and some toothpaste.

A bell above the door rang as he entered. She stood by the counter for a few moments before a young woman came out of the dispensary, where she had been putting colored lights in the medicine cabinets, and said, “Good morning, Signor Rossetti, how may I help you?”

Hardened criminals from the back streets of Naples couldn’t silence Antonio Rossetti, but a chemist from Cortoglia did it with one sentence. “I need a bar of soap,” he finally managed to say.

“You’ll find a nice selection behind you on the third shelf down, Lieutenant.”

“Is it so obvious that I’m a police officer?” Antonio said. “When you’re the only person in town that nobody knows, everyone knows you,” he said.

Antonio selected a bar of soap but ignored the toothpaste, wanting an excuse to return. He set the soap on the counter and tried not to look.

“Is there something else, signor?”

“No, thanks.” Antonio picked up the soap and headed for the door.

Were you thinking of paying or the Naples police don’t bother with something so mundane? she asked, suppressing a smile. “I’m so sorry,” Antonio said, hastily placing a note on the counter.

“Call me again if there’s anything else I can help you with,” he said, handing her a small bag and his change.

“There’s only one thing. You don’t happen to know who killed the mayor?”

“I thought Signor De Rosa had already confessed to murdering Lombardi, and I assumed by now you would have arrested and locked him up?”

Antonio frowned, left the store without saying another word, and headed back to the police station.

  • Exclusively adapted by Jeffrey Archer for the Who Killed The Mayor’s Daily Express. His latest must-read thriller, next in line (HarperCollins, £22), with William Warwick, is out now. Lord Archer’s fee has been donated to give a book.

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