The Franco Corti novels

Peter Inchbald thumbnail portrait
Peter Inchbald

Inspector Franco Corti is a detective and art-lover who chases stolen art and the accompanying villains through a succession of four novels. Italian-born but now living in England, he is the creation of the late Peter Inchbald, whose stories about him were published by Collins Crime Club bewteen 1981 and 1985. The most popular has proved to be the third in the series, A Short Break in Venice.

Inchbald himself had studied at the RA and had spent several periods as a painter, silversmith or sculptor, and he poured his own love and knowledge of fine art into Corti.

The book descriptions below are from the jacket notes to the first UK editions. They have also been published in US editions, and some in large print editions.

Tondo for Short

'Twenty-five million quid's-worth of artwork's gone missing and a man's dead,' said the head of the Art and Antiques Squad at the Yard. 'It's important enough to some.' It was. The artwork was Michaelangelo's other tondo, an eight-hundredweight marble relief of Cupid and Psyche, pagan counterpart of the Royal Academy's great Madonna, and it had been stolen from the Royal Gibbonsian Foundation in Pall Mall.

Like the Gibby Tondo, Inspector Franco Corti, the connoisseur built like a battle-tank, came originally from Florence. That was one reason why the crime got under his skin. The other was that two of his children were roughed up because of it. From then on it was war.

The campaign took him to the Italy he had last seen as a small child. The experience (and the vicious power-games he encountered) tore him apart. And back home he had to cope with Special Branch, his tight-knit Soho-Italian family, his bit on the side...

As Franco Corti battled to recover a national art treasure it had seemed impossible to steal, he found himself fighting for his life (though not in the usual manner of the fictional detective) and found too that success is not always sweet.

Tondo for short marks the debut of this Florentine cockney, art freak and copper, and also of his creator, Peter Inchbald.

The Sweet Short Grass

The three most dangerous things, in the diplomats' joke, are a quiet bull, a friendly Russian and an empty gun. Franco Corti, senior detective with the Art and Antiques Squad at Scotland Yard, is a natural for the first, an old enemy of his the second, but as regards the third...

In Tondo for Short, in which he made his first appearance, Corti's Italian jaunt pitched him into a crisis of national identity. By the opening of Peter Inchbald's second novel, the Florentine cockney, art-freak and copper has decided he is English, emigrated from Soho to Acton, and changed his name.

But Italy won't let go. In action for the first time as Chief Inspector Frank Short, he finds himself fighting a vendetta which needs the full Machiavellian treatment.

Its origins are diverse: his signature in a visitors' book; accusations of corruption; stolen art treasures; his father's work as a restorer of great skill and perhaps a little too much imagination; and finally murder. All interwoven with a couple of dubious Old Masters too sensitive for the FBI to 'put through channels', and with sorties into the English countryside – Corti never did like the country...

A Short Break in Venice

Restored to his original name, Chief Inspector Frank Corti of Scotland yard's Art and Antuques Squad is also temporarily restored to the country of his birth, for he and his wife are on a brief holiday in venice which is blossoming into a second honeymoon.

Then an antique shop is vandalized, and Corti in company with the owner is the first policeman on the scene. After all, the last time he saw Elsa Silverman, wife of his old antagonist Max, she was in Vine Street police station, even though she was released after forty-eight hours.

The thread of consequence shuttles between Venice, haunted by its past, and London, and takes in the Surrey gin-and-Jaguar belt, a dreamy West Country manor, and the 'wild sea moor' of the Venetian lagoon, as it weaves a tapestry of hijack, terror and death.

Old enemies crawl from latin-American hideouts. New friends, Italian and English, emerge to help Corti in his fight against a vicious conspiracy. The family continues to cause him pain and joy. And his final deliverance is into a new and unexpected life.

Short Break in Venice completes the trilogy which began with Tondo for Short and The sweet Short Grass, but Corti's steadily increasing band of admirers may rest assured that there is much more of Franco Corti to come.

Or the Bambino Dies

Italian banker Silvestro Negroni insures with Lloyd's against kidnapping. Within hours his six-year-old son is taken from the garden of the family's Umbrian villa.

Consternation at Lloyd's. Policy-holders are supposed to be anonymous, but this is the fourth such incident in a matter of months. Somewhere there must be a leak.

The underwriter concerned and the head of the security agency call in Franco Corti, formerly a Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard, now art dealer, restauranteur, security consultant and private eye. His brief is to trace the leak, but once in Italy, in the presence of the distraught parents, the agonizing messages, the cruel game of cat and mouse played by the kidnappers, Corti is drawn inescapably into the mainstream of the action: the locating and attemped recovery of the child.

The scene switches between London, Rome, Florence and the cities and countryside of Umbria. The climax is Peter Inchbald's most thrilling yet. And two important clues are provided by a small brown dog and by Cesare, Corti's own teenage son.

This is the fourth Franco Corti novel. They go from strength to strength.

Updated 18 February 2014