A good detective story taking place in a beautiful part of Italy is a real treat for people who enjoy reading crime mysteries and also happen to love Italy. Use this website to find out more about the locations, the lifestyle and the food and the wine experienced by the characters created by your favourite authors.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Vengeance in Venice

A second murder mystery set in Venice by Philip Gwynne Jones

The Giardini della Biennale, which hosts the Venice arts festival, is in the Castello district
The Giardini della Biennale, which hosts the
Venice arts festival, is in the Castello district
Amateur sleuth Nathan Sutherland shows his compassionate side in Vengeance in Venice when he feels sorry for an artist who he meets at an exclusive event during the Venetian Biennale.

He senses Paul Considine, the artist, is nervous and vulnerable and feels even more sympathetic when he discovers that he has already received a scathing review from a Times art critic before the exhibition has even opened to the public.

That same critic, Gordon Blake-Hoyt, is present at the reception in the British pavilion in the Giardini della Biennale, to which Nathan has been invited in his role as honorary British Consul in Venice.

When the unpleasant GBH, as he is nicknamed, falls from a glass-floored corridor overlooking the exhibition and is decapitated by a vertical shard of glass that is part of the artworks on display, Nathan finds himself caught up in a murder mystery again. A postcard found in the victim’s pocket - of a painting by Artemesia Gentileschi showing Judith beheading Holofernes - indicates that the death was not just the result of a tragic accident.

Paul Considine is among the suspects but all Nathan’s instincts tell him that the artist is not the murderer and he sets out to try to prove it.

Nathan Sutherland returns in Vengeance in Venice
Nathan Sutherland returns
in Vengeance in Venice 
In theory, Nathan's unpaid job as honorary consul should be no more dangerous than helping British tourists who have lost their passports or become ill during their holidays, but as happened in The Venetian Game, Nathan can’t resist sleuthing and putting his own life and that of his friend, Dario, at risk. His paid job, as a freelance translator of diy manuals, clearly doesn’t provide him with enough excitement.

Nathan’s personal life has moved on since The Venetian Game and his friend, Federica, the art restorer, is now his partner. His lifestyle has become less chaotic as a result and he has become more domesticated and is enjoying cooking for two. But at one point he risks losing Federica by keeping her in the dark about his unofficial investigation.

The story is well told by Phillip Gwynne Jones against the beautiful backdrop of Venice in the early summer, as Nathan moves round the city by vaporetto and traghetto, pausing occasionally for Prosecco and cicchetti and savouring the art and architecture along the way.

Vengeance in Venice was published by Constable in 2018. 

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Monday, January 16, 2023

The Age of Doubt

An Inspector Montalbano Mystery by Andrea Camilleri


The mystery in The Age of Doubt begins with the crew of a yacht finding a body in a dinghy
The mystery in The Age of Doubt begins with
the crew of a yacht finding a body in a dinghy
A chance encounter with a strange young woman who Inspector Montalbano meets on the way to work one morning prompts him to visit the harbour authorities at Vigàta.

A yacht called the Vanna that the young woman said belonged to her aunt was due to sail in that afternoon but at the harbour he discovers it has been held up out at sea because of stormy weather.

Later in the day, a lieutenant from the harbour office gets in touch with Montalbano to tell him that the people on board the Vanna have called ahead to report that they have encountered a dinghy floating in the sea carrying the dead body of a man.

The crew have taken the dead body, which has a badly disfigured face, on board the yacht and they bring it into the harbour with them. The harbour physician, who Montalbano knows and likes, asks him to come down to look at the body with him. Despite trying to argue that the victim may have died in international waters, Montalbano soon finds himself in charge of a murder investigation.

The Inspector becomes suspicious of the owner of the yacht, a bad tempered middle aged woman, who denies all knowledge of the supposed niece he had met that morning. However, he later realises he has been conned by the strange young woman.

Camilleri's The Age of Doubt is published by Pan Macmillan
Camilleri's The Age of Doubt is
published by Pan Macmillan 
Montalbano soon finds himself embroiled in a puzzling mystery and at one stage has to sit down and writes a letter to himself to help him understand the various aspects of the case.

Everything is made even more chaotic by Catarella’s inability to understand people on the phone, but Montalbano continues to show remarkable patience with him.

He also has to deal with the Commissioner over a problem with paperwork on his desk that got wet during the stormy weather

Despite his long standing relationship with his girlfriend, Livia, he finds himself becoming dangerously besotted with a beautiful young woman who works at the harbour and he has to risk his own life to help her when events reach their dramatic conclusion.

The Age of Doubt - the 14th in the highly popular series - is a hectic but highly readable Montalbano mystery, laced with plenty of humour, in which as usual Camilleri keeps a few surprises up his sleeve until the end. 

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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Venetian Game

Intriguing mystery played out in a setting of which we never tire

As a Venice resident, Philip Gwynne Jones gives his character local knowledge
As a Venice resident, Philip Gwynne Jones
gives his character local knowledge
I was very excited when I rather belatedly discovered The Venetian Game, the first in a series of crime novels set in Venice written by Philip Gwynne Jones.

It was refreshing to read a mystery that has Venice as the backdrop and to have the city described from a new point of view. I have been an avid reader of Donna Leon’s Brunetti series over the years and Donna Leon is, of course, a famous ex-pat American resident of Venice. Philip Gwynne Jones, who was born in Swansea and grew up in south Wales, is now also lucky enough to be living there, working as a teacher, writer, and translator.

I’ve been visiting Venice regularly for more than 45 years and think I know the city well, but not in the same way that a local can know and portray it, of course. I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of squares and bridges as his viewpoint character, Nathan Sutherland, makes his way through the calli using routes to get to places that only a local would know, in the same way that Commissario Brunetti moves about in Donna Leon’s novels.

As a series character, I thought Nathan was very promising. He lives in an apartment on Via dei Assassini, where he makes a living as an English translator of DIY manuals. He also serves as the English Honorary Consul to Venice and does his best to help British tourists who get into difficulty while visiting La Serenissima.

This is an excellent device because it is entirely plausible that Nathan will have regular dealings with the police while trying to sort out people’s problems. It is also likely that he will have developed a friendship with an officer who he can call on for help when he is engaged in sleuthing.

Nathan is separated from his wife, who we eventually learn has left to take up a job in Scotland. He has an unfriendly cat called Gramsci, named after a former leader of the Italian Communist party, Antonio Gramsci, who stood up to Mussolini and was imprisoned by the Fascists for 20 years. To add further interest, Nathan also has an attractive Italian female friend, Federica, who is an art restorer.

The Venetian Game is the first of a series of detective novels
The Venetian Game is the first
of a series of detective novels
The mystery is set up at the beginning of the novel when a man in his sixties visits Nathan’s apartment and asks him to look after an item in his wall safe that is sealed in a padded envelope.  When Nathan tells him that won’t be possible without knowing what the package contains, the man offers to pay him ten thousand euros. When that doesn’t work, he threatens Nathan.

The package turns out to hold a valuable antique prayer book illustrated by an Italian master and Nathan eventually finds he has been drawn into a deadly game of art theft being played by two elderly brothers who live in a palace on the Grand Canal.

Nathan is terrorised at the top of a high building, beaten up and nearly drowned in a canal, and forced to flee his apartment, taking Gramsci with him, and make his escape by vaporetto, all because of the package.

I found myself wondering about Nathan at this point. Why doesn’t he take the package to the police and go and stay somewhere else for a while? What makes him want to put his life at risk to solve the mystery? Is it because he’s exceptionally brave, or has an insatiable curiosity, or is determined to see justice done?

The Venetian Game was first published in 2017. As I said earlier, I was a bit late discovering the series. I am looking forward to reading the sequel, Vengeance in Venice, which was published in 2018, to find out exactly what motivates Nathan.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2022

I Will Have Vengeance

A Commissario Ricciardi Mystery by Maurizio De Giovanni

The Naples waterfront in the 1930s, the era in which De Giovanni set his Commissario Ricciardi novels
The Naples waterfront in the 1930s, the era in which
De Giovanni set his Commissario Ricciardi novels
An intriguing detective story set in the dark days when Mussolini ruled Italy, I Will Have Vengeance is peopled by believable characters who live their lives in realistic settings.

But the novel is by a contemporary crime writer, Maurizio De Giovanni, and was published as recently as 2007.The setting is Naples in the year 1931 and De Giovanni manages to recreate the atmosphere of a city where poverty and wealth exist side by side with each other and officials are constantly looking over their shoulders in fear of Il Duce.

Much of the action takes place in Teatro di San Carlo, the city’s opera house. The story revolves around the world of opera, which De Giovanni obviously knows and understands well.

Commissario Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi, who is from a noble background, is sent to investigate a sudden death at the theatre. He is a loner and remains aloof from most of the other officers, but has the reputation of being a brilliant detective.

The big thing the reader has to get his head round is that this enigmatic police officer can see dead people. From being a child, he had been able to see the dead and it has set him apart from everyone else. As the author explains: ‘Not all of them and not for long: only those who had died violently, and only for a period of time that revealed extreme emotion, the sudden energy of their final thoughts.’

Maurizio De Giovanni wrote his first stories while working in a bank
Maurizio De Giovanni wrote his
first stories while working in a bank
But by the end of the book, I had come to terms with Ricciardi’s special gift, having become more interested in following the story and seeing how he solved the case.

The greatest tenor the world has ever known, Arnaldo Vezzi, has been found dead in his dressing room at Teatro di San Carlo. Ricciardi and his loyal deputy, Maione, are quickly on the scene and immediately clash with the director of the theatre when they insist on setting up a professional police investigation.

Vezzi was adored by millions, including Il Duce, but is hated by everyone in the theatre and in his personal life because of his arrogance and bad temper. Ricciardi’s boss, the Vice Questore, wants a quick result, even if it is not the right result, but Ricciardi insists on investigating thoroughly in order to bring the actual killer to justice. It is a compelling story and is told brilliantly by De Giovanni.

The setting of Naples in 1931 is very realistically portrayed because De Giovanni remembers his parents sharing their memories of the city before World War II with him.

De Giovanni was born in 1958 in Naples. He worked in a bank and wrote stories as a hobby. His colleagues at the bank decided to enter one of his stories in a writing competition for unpublished writers without his knowledge and his short story, I vivi e i morti – The Living and the Dead, set in the 1930s and featuring Commissario Ricciardi, won the competition. This inspired him to write his first novel, Le lacrime del pagliaccio – The Tears of the Clown - which was later republished in English as I Will Have Vengeance – The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi.

The Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, where much of the action in I Will Have Vengeance takes place
The Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, where much of
the action in I Will Have Vengeance takes place
He followed this with Blood Curse – The Springtime of Commissario Ricciardi in 2008, Everyone in Their Place – The Summer of Commissario Ricciardi in 2009 and The Day of the Dead – The Autumn of Commissario Ricciardi in 2010. To date he has written 13 Commissario Ricciardi novels.

The author has created two fictional detectives, Commissario Ricciardi, who works in 1930s Naples, and Ispettore Lojacono, who has been transferred to present day Naples from his home town of Agrigento in Sicily, after being accused of associating with the Mafia.

In 2012, De Giovanni ventured into the noir genre with The Crocodile, which featured the first appearance by Ispettore Lojacono.

He was then inspired by the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain to write a police procedural, The Bastards of Pizzofalcone. His five Pizzofalcone novels have now been made into a television series by RAI, starring Alessandro Gassmann as Ispettore Lojacono.

De Giovanni’s novels have now been translated into English, Spanish, Catalan, French and German and have sold well over a million copies throughout Europe.

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Friday, February 4, 2022

The Potter’s Field

An Inspector Montalbano Mystery by Andrea Camilleri 


The fictional Montalbano's home is just a few yards from the sea on the Sicilian coast
The fictional Montalbano's home is just a few
yards from the sea on the Sicilian coast
As if investigating a suspected Mafia killing in atrocious weather isn’t difficult enough, Inspector Montalbano also finds himself having to solve the puzzle of the morose and quarrelsome behaviour of his friend and deputy, Mim
ì Augello, in this thirteenth novel in the police series set in Sicily.

After a terrifying dream in which the real-life Mafia boss, Totò Riina, has become prime minister and offers Montalbano the job of Minister of the Interior, the Inspector is woken by loud banging at his front door, where he finds one of his men, Catarella, who has come to his house to tell him about the discovery of a dead body. 

Under a relentless downpour, Montalbano and his men succeed in retrieving the body from where it has slid down a slope. It has been cut into pieces, put inside a bag and buried in a field of clay on the island, which is used by potters.

The Inspector has to find out the identity of the victim, why the body has been cut into 30 pieces and for what reason it has been left in The Potter’s Field. An added complication is a series of phone calls Montalbano receives from his long-distance girlfriend, Livia. Mimì’s wife, Beba, is in regular contact with Livia and has been telling her that Montalbano has been treating her husband very badly, requiring him to do regular all night stake outs, which is affecting their marriage.

Knowing there have been no recent all-night stake outs, the Inspector has no idea what is going on, but he allows Livia to believe that what she has been told is true to give him time to find out more about it. 

The Potter's Field is the 13th Montalbano novel
The Potter's Field is the 13th
Montalbano novel
He asks his Swedish friend, Ingrid, to follow Mimì to see where he goes at night, guessing he is probably seeing another woman. When Ingrid visits Montalbano’s apartment late at night to report back to him, the Inspector is terrified when the phone rings and it is Livia, who immediately senses someone is there with him.

The murder inquiry becomes more complicated when a beautiful South American woman comes to the police station to report that her husband is missing and Montalbano discovers that the man, a ship’s officer, just happens to be a distant relative of a local Mafia boss.

Discussing Mafia rituals with his officer, Fazio, leads to Montalbano recalling a passage from the Bible. He looks it up in the Gospel according to Matthew and reads the passage recounting the suicide of Judas, where he comes to the phrase ‘...the potter’s field to bury strangers in …’. 

Montalbano feels an actual shock go through his body as he finally has a clue about what lay behind the decision to cut the victim up in 30 pieces. 

But this time Montalbano not only has to solve a murder, he has to try to extricate Mimì from the trouble he is in. And he contrives to enable Mimì to take the credit for finding out who is responsible for the murder of the cut up body found in the potter’s field. 

It is a tall order, but Montalbano is cheered up by regularly eating at Enzo’s trattoria, where he consumes in just one of his meals whitebait, octopus, pasta with sea urchins and striped red mullet. 

He also finds the time to play a practical joke on his arch enemy, Pippo Ragonese, the top newsman at TeleVigàta

The Potter’s Field was first published in Italian as Il campo del vasaio in 2008. It was translated into English in 2011 by Stephen Sartarelli. I found it to be as ingenious as it was entertaining and would definitely recommend it.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Raphael Affair

A crime mystery set in Rome served up with lashings of Italian culture

The Raphael Affair is the first of a series featuring Jonathan Argyll
The Raphael Affair is the first of
a series featuring Jonathan Argyll
This first novel of an Italian art history mystery series will delight many people who enjoy crime fiction with Italy as the backdrop.

Written by Iain Pears, an English art historian, novelist and journalist, The Raphael Affair introduces British art dealer Jonathan Argyll, who becomes a series character. He is brought to the attention of an Art Theft officer working for the Italian police, Flavia di Stefano, when he is caught breaking into a church in Rome.

A graduate student on holiday in Italy, Argyll had been arrested for vagrancy when he was found apparently trying to sleep in the church of Santa Barbara in the Campo dei Fiori.

When Flavia interviews him in English, she discovers that Argyll had gone to the church to examine a painting by Raphael that was hanging above the altar. He insists on making a full statement because he is convinced an enormous fraud has taken place.

He claims that the church contains a lost classic, hidden under another painting. When the picture vanishes, only to turn up in the hands of a British art dealer who claims it is a newly-discovered work by Raphael, his story gains some credibility.

Argyll and Flavia di Stefano join forces to find out whether the painting is a lost Raphael or not, but find themselves in danger when they come too close to discovering the truth.

Iain Pears has worked in Italy as a journalist
Iain Pears has worked in
Italy as a journalist
The Raphael Affair, which was first published in 1990, is a well-plotted story by Pears with sympathetic characters and its fair share of politics, corruption, suspense and sudden death. The outcome is surprising and sets up Argyll nicely to stay in Italy, see more of Flavia and appear in another novel.

Author Iain Pears was born in Coventry and educated at Oxford. He became a reporter for the BBC and then a correspondent for Reuters based in Italy, France and the US.

Following The Raphael Affair, Pears has published another six art mystery novels featuring art historian Jonathan Argyll. They are: The Titian Committee, The Bernini Bust, The Last Judgment, Giotto’s Hand, Death and Restoration and The Immaculate Deception.

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to read The Raphael Affair, but now I can’t wait to get started on The Titian Committee!  

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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Track of Sand

An Inspector Montalbano Mystery by Andrea Camilleri

Montalbano locates the scene of the crime by following a trail of hoofprints in the sand
Montalbano locates the scene of the crime by
following a trail of hoofprints in the sand
Inspector Montalbano finds himself distracted by a beautiful, female equestrian champion and also distraught when events conspire to prevent him enjoying good food, in this 12th book in the series.

The Inspector’s troubles begin when he finds the carcass of a dead horse on the beach in front of his house. When he gets close to it, he is overcome with rage. ‘The beast was all bloodied, its head broken open with some sort of iron bar, its whole body bearing the signs of a long, ferocious beating. There were deep, open wounds, pieces of flesh dangling. It was clear that the horse, battered as it was, had managed to escape and run desperately away until it could go no further.'

Montalbano follows the hoofprints to the spot where the horse had been beaten and discovers from the impressions in the sand that four people had been hitting the horse with iron bars, witnessed by two others, who had stood to one side, smoking.

He calls out his men and sends them to scour the beach for forensic evidence and then rings up City Hall to arrange for the carcass to be taken away. But while he and his men are having coffee in the house, the horse mysteriously vanishes, leaving only a track in the sand.

The Track of Sand is the 12th of Camilleri's Montalbano novels
The Track of Sand is the 12th of
Camilleri's Montalbano novels
Before long, Rachele, a glamorous horsewoman, turns up at police headquarters to report her horse missing. It had been stabled in the grounds of one of the richest men in Sicily, who had lost one of his horses as well.

Even though the case really belongs to officers working in another part of the island, Montalbano can’t resist investigating himself and he vows to track down the people responsible for this atrocity.

But it soon becomes obvious that he has upset someone, as thieves break into his home twice, once to steal a watch and once to put it back.

Coincidentally, Rachele is staying with Montalbano’s attractive Swedish friend, Ingrid, and the two women ask Montalbano to go with them to a fund-raising dinner, which, of course, he dreads. He knows in advance that the food will be awful and finds he is absolutely right. He returns home late at night looking forward to eating olives and anchovies from the fridge with some hard bread and plenty of wine. But he finds his house has been ransacked while he was out.

Montalbano and his officers work hard to unravel the mystery, track down the guilty parties and arrest them.

Then the Inspector races home to set the table on his veranda so he can sit down and enjoy a meal cooked by his housekeeper, Adelina, for himself, Ingrid and Rachele. He intends to savour the food, before explaining everything to them...

I am sure new readers and seasoned Camilleri fans alike will enjoy this 12th serving of Montalbano’s unorthodox investigative methods, melancholy self-reflection, Sicilian humour and perfectly cooked fish, all beautifully translated by Stephen Sartarelli.

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