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A Murder in Tuscany by Christobel Kent
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312621025
Date: 02 August 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Publisher's Book Page / Show Official Info /

Loni Meadows is the beautiful director of the Castello Orfeo; it is an ancient, isolated castle in Southern Tuscany, which serves as a retreat for lonely, wandering artists such as playwrights, novelists, sculptures, and musicians. She has broken the hearts of many lovers, threatened to dismiss several employees, and cruelly criticized the artwork of numerous guests. It is no wonder that her car accident looks suspiciously like murder. Loni's estranged, much older husband, Giuliano Mascarello, hires PI Sandro Cellini to investigate. Soon, Sandro learns that there are a dozen suspects, each with a motive for wanting Loni dead and each of them snowbound at the castle, unable to flee but still capable of murder.

Christobel Kent knows how to build a suspenseful, intriguing mystery, of which A Murder in Tuscany is a prime example. She begins with a creepy, gloomy setting -- an ancient castle surrounded in the dead of winter by barren hills and accessible only by treacherous, winding roads. (Having once lived in Wiesbaden, Germany when my dad was in the Air Force, I have always been fascinated with castles; this is my primary reason for choosing to read this novel.) Christobel adds a cast of tortured, depressed characters who are all hiding dark secrets in their mysterious pasts. Then she adds a clever PI from Florence, Sandro Cellini, who is a stickler for details; he reminded me of Lieutenant Columbo and Hercule Poirot. He is aided by a beautiful, young employee of the Castello Orfeo, Cate Giottone, who has fallen in love with a crippled pianist, Tiziano Scarpa.

A Murder in Tuscany is a character driven mystery that delves deep into the human psyche, especially that part which deals with relationships. Many of the characters have experienced broken relationships brought on by violent, unsuspected deaths. Sandro himself fears that his marriage is in jeopardy; he suspects his wife Luisa (who has recently recovered from breast cancer) is having an affair with her wealthy boss, Enrico Frollini. Though lacking in bloody action and violence, this novel amply compensates for it in the form of human drama. The last fifty pages fly by quickly as suspicion is laid upon each of the major characters. The author keeps the reader guessing until nearly the end. It was difficult to pin down any one particular character because they were all so mentally damaged.

Unfortunately, Christobel Kent's writing style tends to bog down the plot. Sometimes, I felt as though I was plodding through it in the same manner as the characters who were laboriously trudging through the deep snow. Too much emphasis is placed on describing the characters' emotions. Consequently, paragraphs become too verbose. There was the overuse of the prepositional phrase, the dash, and the word "um". Furthermore, flashbacks were not executed with ease. Giving the first name of "Per" to a major character was also confusing at times, especially when it began a sentence. However, with patience, the reader will be rewarded with a satisfying whodunit. I never felt it was necessary to have read Kent's first Sandro Cellini novel, The Drowning River, in order to enjoy its sequel. Kent provides plenty of background information on Sandro and Luisa Cellini and Giuli Sarto, their adopted daughter, without spoiling the mystery of The Drowning River.

If it's the warm, beautiful, flowering landscapes of Florence, Italy that you are craving, then don't read A Murder in Tuscany. It is a cold, gloomy tale of bizarre vengeance that contains a depressing dénouement. Read it if you like isolated settings where the characters are trapped both physically and emotionally. Fans of old-fashioned Agatha Christie-like mysteries will be pleased by this one. All the suspects, though not guilty of murder, are guilty of committing a crime or concealing a heinous sin, dark secret or forbidden vice. For an unusual slice of Italy, fans of Italian mysteries may also want to read A Murder in Tuscany. Despite it having a verbose writing style that hampers the plot, I would like to read the next installment in the Sandro Cellini series.

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