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.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

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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Thursday, March 2, 2023

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)

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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