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.


Death in the High City

Successful decade for crime novel set in Bergamo

Death in the High City, the first detective novel written in English to be set in Bergamo in northern Italy, was published ten years ago this summer.

To mark the tenth anniversary, East Wind Publishing have issued a new edition of the mystery with a front cover showing Bergamo’s Via Colleoni at night. The historic street in the Città Alta, Bergamo’s upper town, features as a key location in the novel. 

Referred to as un romanzo giallo in Italian, Death in the High City centres on the investigation into the death of an English woman staying in Bergamo while working on a biography of the opera composer Gaetano Donizetti, who was born and died in the city. 

The dead woman had been living in an apartment in Bergamo’s Città Alta and much of the action takes place within the walls of the upper town. 

The novel was the first in a series to feature the characters of Kate Butler, a freelance journalist, and Steve Bartorelli, a retired Detective Chief Inspector, who is of partly Italian descent. 

At first the local police do not believe there is enough evidence to open a murder enquiry and so journalist Kate Butler, the victim’s cousin, arrives in Bergamo to try to get some answers about her relative’s death, on behalf of her elderly aunt, who is too frail to make the journey herself. 

Kate visits many of the places in Bergamo with Donizetti connections and her enquiries also take her out to Lago d’Iseo and into the countryside around San Pellegrino Terme. 

But after her own life is threatened and there has been another death in the Città Alta, her partner, Steve Bartorelli, joins her in Bergamo to help unravel the mystery and trap the killer. 

The reader can enjoy Bergamo’s wonderful architecture and scenery from the comfort of their own armchair, while savouring the many descriptions in the novel of local food and wine. 

After the novel was published, Author Val Culley was invited to present Death in the High City to an audience in San Pellegrino Terme in Lombardy, and sign copies of the book, as a guest at the fifth anniversary celebrations of Bergamo Su e Giù, a group of independent tour guides based in the city. During the evening, she was presented with a book about San Pellegrino Terme by the town’s mayor. 

Val Culley signing copies of Death in the High City for students at a college near Bergamo
Val Culley signing copies of Death in the High
for students at a college near Bergamo
She also made two appearances on Bergamo TV to talk about the novel with presenter Teo Mangione during his daily breakfast programme. During one of her visits to the studios, she presented a copy of the book to the Mayor of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori, who took office the year the novel was published. 

Val was invited to Bergamo for a further visit by the Cambridge Institute to give a talk about Death in The High City to a group of 80 Italian teachers of English and to sign copies for them. 

She has also formally presented a copy of Death in the High City to the Biblioteca Civica (Civic Library), a beautiful 16th century building in white marble, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, situated in Piazza Vecchia, a location that features frequently in the novel. 

She was later invited to give a talk about Death in the High City at a sixth form college in Zogno, a comune in Valle Brembana set in beautiful countryside in the hills above Bergamo. 

Another highlight was when the New York Times mentioned to Death in the High City in a travel feature they were running about Bergamo. 

The novel came out in Kindle format in May 2014 and a paperback version was released in July 2014. It has since sold copies in the UK, Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, America, Australia, Canada, and Mexico. 

Death in the High City will interest readers who enjoy the ‘cosy’ crime fiction genre, or like detective stories with an Italian setting.

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Paganini’s Ghost

A Giovanni Castiglione novel by Paul Adam

Paganini's Ghost features the
luthier-detective Giovanni Castiglione
Paganini’s Ghost is another enjoyable musical mystery set in Cremona in Lombardy, from Paul Adam, the author of The Rainaldi Quarter (first published as Sleeper). 

In this novel, the historical figure of virtuoso violinist Niccolo Paganini is at the centre of the story. Paganini’s famous violin, Il Cannone - the cannon - is kept in a museum in Genoa and is only ever played at special concerts by top virtuoso violinists who have won international competitions.

A young Russian virtuoso violinist, Yevgeny Ivanov, has been given the honour of playing Il Cannone in the cathedral in Cremona, the city where Il Cannone was originally made by the luthier Guarneri del Gesù.

When the violin suffers slight damage, Ivanov turns to retired Cremonese luthier Giovanni Castiglione for help with detecting the fault and, as a result, the two men become friends.

Castiglione attends Ivanov’s concert in the cathedral and the subsequent reception at the town hall. 

The next day, his friend, the detective Antonio Guastafeste, is called in to investigate the death of a Parisian art dealer, whose body was found in his hotel room the day after the concert.

He co-opts Castiglione to aid his investigation, with the permission of the police, because the art dealer had a fragment of sheet music in his wallet that had belonged to Ivanov. 

The real Il Cannone, as played by Paganini in the 19th century, is kept in a museum in Genoa
The real Il Cannone, as played by Paganini in the
19th century, is kept in a museum in Genoa
The mild-mannered retired luthier once again finds himself on the trail of a murderer and he is faced with trying to unravel a musical mystery that has been unsolved for more than a century.

Castiglione and Guastafeste discover a tantalising tangle of love, deception, and greed, and they follow a trail that leads back to the great Paganini and his lover, Elisa Bonaparte, the sister of Napoleon, and also involves Catherine the Great of Russia.

The pair must solve a mystery that dates back more than a century to give them the answer to this modern-day murder.

Paganini’s Ghost - book two of Adams’s Cremona Mysteries trilogy - is packed with fascinating historical and musical details and also provides the reader with a gripping mystery that will keep them turning the pages.

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Uniform Justice

A Commissario Brunetti novel by Donna Leon

Uniform Justice is Leon's 12th Brunetti mystery
Uniform Justice is Leon's
12th Brunetti mystery
I found this to be the saddest of all the Commissario Brunetti novels that I have reviewed so far.

Brunetti and his officers are investigating the death of a young military cadet who is found hanged in the barracks of an elite military academy in Venice.

Although Brunetti and his wife, Paola, have never had much sympathy for the Italian armed forces, the Commissario cannot help but feel sorry for the young man, who is close in age to his own son, and he also has some sympathy for his parents.

But he is irritated by the arrogant, high-handed attitude of the boy’s teachers and fellow students at the academy and the apparent unwillingness of the boy’s family to open up to him.

He is not prepared to just accept that the boy’s death is suicide without investigating the circumstances thoroughly and he eventually uncovers the truth, unpalatable though it is found to be.

I would not want to put anyone off from reading Uniform Justice, particularly if you are reading Donna Leon’s Brunetti novels in order, but it is the bleakest of her books that I have read so far. 

However, it is always a pleasure to read the author’s descriptions of Venice, which is now her adopted home city, and I look forward to moving on to read the next novel in the series. 

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The Medici Murders by David Hewson

Carnevale chaos served up with a generous helping of history

The Medici Murders is set in Venice during Carnevale
The Medici Murders is set in
Venice during Carnevale
This novel set in Venice has a very likeable main character, a retired archivist named Arnold Clover, who suddenly finds himself having to help the Carabinieri with a murder investigation.

Arnold and his wife had planned to live out their retirement years in Venice and had managed to buy a small apartment there, but on the eve of their departure from England to start their new life, Arnold’s wife unexpectedly died because of a deteriorating health condition.

With his house sold and nothing left for him in London, Arnold sadly had to make the move alone. But after a year, he has settled in and, although still missing his wife, he has made some friends in Venice.

But then his peace is shattered when ghosts from his past arrive in la Serenissima and bring their troubles to his door.

David Hewson’s novel, The Medici Murders, which was published in 2022, is set during the annual Carnevale, a time of year when tourists roam the chilly calle of Venice wearing bizarre costumes.

Arnold, as a British expat, is commandeered by Carabinieri officer Valentina Fabbri to help him solve the murder of a well-known British TV historian, Marmaduke Godolphin.

Although Arnold has never thought of Godolphin as a friend, he knows of him because Godolphin had been a tutor at Arnold’s Cambridge college. Arnold had also recently been hired by him, via a third party, a Venetian archivist he has met, to go through some historical papers Godolphin has acquired.

Among the papers, Godolphin believed there would be previously unknown information about the murder of fugitive assassin Lorenzino de’ Medici in Venice, exactly 500 years before.

With Godolphin on the trip are other people Arnold remembers from his Cambridge days, who had been part of Godolphin’s exclusive circle of budding historians, while Arnold had been a mere looker-on.

The Medici Murders was published in 2022
The Medici Murders was
published in 2022
When Godolphin is found murdered in the exact spot Lorenzino de’ Medici had been killed in, the Carabinieri demand Arnold’s assistance, because the people who have accompanied Godolphin to Venice have now become their main suspects.

This novel will appeal to readers of Donna Leon and Philip Gwynne Jones, or to anyone who enjoys a crime novel set in Venice with a generous sprinkling of Italian history. 

David Hewson is a former journalist with The Times, The Sunday Times and The Independent. He has written more than 30 novels, including a series of crime novels set in Rome. He now lives near Canterbury in Kent.

The novel is a whodunit, but it also explores Arnold’s personal tragedy. After the retired archivist arrives at the solution to the mystery, he has the glimpse of a chance of a relationship with someone who never looked twice at him when they were at Cambridge together.

But Arnold shows his independent spirit and there is a surprise for the reader at the end. Let us hope David Hewson writes more about the adventures in Venice of this intelligent, retired archivist.

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Sleeper by Paul Adam

Musical mystery set in a quiet city in Lombardy

leeper has also been published as The Rainaldi Quartet
Sleeper has also been published
as The Rainaldi Quartet
As a lover of crime fiction, I enjoy a well plotted mystery, and it is even better if the novel also has an evocatively described Italian setting. In Sleeper, Paul Adam brings Cremona to life for the reader. It is a city that is perhaps not as well known as Milan, Bergamo, or Mantua, but like those other famous cities in Lombardy, Cremona has a long and fascinating history.

Cremona has also become synonymous in people’s minds with violin making and, without forcing too much knowledge on the reader, Adam imparts a lot of the history and tradition of this craft during the novel.

The story begins in the countryside outside Cremona when four men meet at a house for their monthly chance to play music together as a string quartet. One of them is a priest, another a policeman, and the other two are expert luthiers, the craftsmen who make stringed instruments.

After enjoying music, wine, and laughter together, they disperse one after the other. But when one of the luthiers does not arrive back at his home as expected, the other luthier, Gianni Castiglione, and the policeman, Antonio Guastafeste, go to look for him at his workshop in Cremona, where they find him dead, having been stabbed with one of his own chisels.

It is a mystery to them why anyone would want to kill the elderly luthier, Tomaso Rainaldi, who was not particularly well off and was liked by everyone who knew him, The only clue that Castiglione and Guastafeste can go on is that Rainaldi seems to have become involved in a quest to track down a rare and fabled violin made by one of the famous Cremonese master luthiers. An instrument, if it exists, that could potentially be worth millions.

The book was so well written it was a delight to read. In Castiglione, the novel has an unusual protagonist and amateur sleuth because the luthier is no longer young. Although he is semi-retired, he still practises the art of violin making, and mending, at his home and he has an expert knowledge of the instrument. Therefore, Guastafeste persuades his superiors to allow his friend to join the official police investigation.

The action in Sleeper takes place against the  backcloth of the mediaeval city of Cremona
The action in Sleeper takes place against the 
backcloth of the mediaeval city of Cremona
Castiglione has some long shadows from his past and reveals his flaws to the reader as the novel progresses. The story is told in the first person and the reader can get inside his head and know what Castiglione is thinking at times. Yet Adam succeeds in making the reader get behind Castiglione and to want to urge him on in his quest to find out who murdered his friend.

Castiglione and Guastafeste hope that following the trail leading to the famous violin will help them  unmask the murderer and so they take up Rainaldi’s mission themselves, retracing his recent travels to Milan, Venice, and other interesting places in northern Italy, as well as visiting England briefly.

Paul Adam has written 13 novels for adults and a trilogy of thrillers for children. A former journalist, he now lives in Sheffield, but he has worked in Rome and travelled widely in Italy. He plays the violin himself and as a result became interested in how violins are made.

He chose Cremona as his setting because it was home to the masters of violin making, Stradivari, Guarneri, and Amati. It has been the centre of violin making for centuries and is still a city of luthiers. He said in an interview that he did his research in Cremona in person to make sure he described his locations and the atmosphere of the city accurately.

Sleeper was first published in 2004 by Endeavour Publishing, but was republished under the title of The Rainaldi Quartet by Macmillan in 2007.  There are another two books by Adam making up a Cremona trilogy, Paganini’s Ghost and The Hardanger Riddle.

I am packing a copy of Paganini’s Ghost to take on holiday with me in a few days, when I will be visiting, guess where, Cremona! Can’t wait to read it.

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The Dance of the Seagull

An Inspector Montalbano Mystery by Andrea Camilleri

A seagull fills Montalbano with a sense of  foreboding at the start of compelling story
A seagull fills Montalbano with a sense of 
foreboding at the start of compelling story
Inspector Montalbano is left with a strange sense of foreboding when he sees a seagull die on the beach in front of the terrace of his villa, after the bird had performed a strange spinning motion with one wing open, inscribing a circle.

Afterwards he goes to the airport to meet his girlfriend, Livia, who has flown to Sicily from her home town of Genoa to spend some quiet time with him. Montalbano has booked some leave from work so that they can visit some of the island’s Baroque cities that Livia has never seen.

He leaves Livia at his home to go into the police station to finish off some routine work before starting his holiday. While he is in his office, the wife of Fazio, one of his officers, comes in to see him to say she is worried about her husband, who is missing and hasn’t contacted her as he usually does when he has to work all night.

The circumstances are worrying and Montalbano feels he has to look into it straight away. He visits the port with his deputy, Mimi Augello, because the night before, Fazio had told his wife he was going there to meet Montalbano.

A customs officer tells them that the previous night he heard shots while on duty.  Montalbano thinks Fazio may have gone to investigate something at the port on his own and he becomes worried. He is very fond of Fazio and therefore the Inspector becomes totally focused on the investigation, realising that the longer Fazio is missing, the more chance there is that he is dead.

The Dance of the Seagull is the  15th Montalbano mystery
The Dance of the Seagull is the 
15th Montalbano mystery
A tip off from a criminal, who says he has seen a badly injured Fazio with two other men in a remote area of the island, leads them to investigate a place where there are dry wells, into which the Mafia sometimes throw the bodies of their victims. Montalbano deploys firemen to search the wells and they find the bodies of two men, but neither of them is Fazio.

Montalbano has a chilling feeling the Mafia are involved in Fazio’s disappearance and becomes desperate to find the injured officer alive before it is too late. He works night and day on the investigation, hardly stopping to eat or rest.

He looks into everyone who has tried to contact Fazio through the police switchboard recently and finally begins to piece things together.

But then his troubles really begin, when he realises that he has left Livia waiting alone at his villa to start their holiday together…

The Dance of the Seagull is a compelling story with an intriguing crime at the heart of it that Montalbano must solve in order to find Fazio before it is too late.

As always, the novel provides fascinating insights into life in Sicily and moments that make the reader want to laugh out loud, despite the unrelenting suspense.

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(Picture credit: Seagull by Edgar Gonzalez from Pixabay)


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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