Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Italian Mysteries: Nabb, Brophy, Leon

Beach reading for me is mysteries. Vermont, of course, only has lakeside beaches, not ocean ones, and in weather like yesterday's, when we lost power, phones, and Internet, the beach is internal -- but hey, it still calls for a good book. Dave was reading an advance copy of Archer Mayor's fall offering, THE CATCH, as we sheltered at a local hotel that still had electricity (good generators?). Me, I was wrapping up a Magdelen Nabb, inspired in that direction by Marilyn Stasio's Sunday review in the New York Times of the latest Nabb mystery: VITA NUOVA (Soho Press).

It's an ironic title, all things considered, since Nabb died last August and is perhaps in a distant new life of her own. But the new release is clearly not a radical departure from her other Florence, Italy, police procedurals featuring Marshal Guarnaccia. Head of the police unit headquartered at the Palazzo Pitti, Guarnaccia's charm for the reader is that his mix of love of region and personal quiet alienation allow him to ponder the larger strands of what is taking place around him. When his investigation leads him into a web of domestic violence and secrecy, he rediscovers the tragic level of social acceptance of such punitive actions. Strong men often become so in opposition to the women in their lives -- at least, this is what the Marshal finds around him in Florence. It's not his first deep, slow, sorrowing insight. But it is probably the last such tale, and well worth adding to the bookshelf as an endstop to the Nabb books. By the way, the official author web site,, was sadly out of date when I checked it today, so use the material that Soho Crime offers to supplement your exploration.

I mentioned Grace Brophy's new mystery through Soho a few days ago; I don't have a copy yet, so I won't say more, except to recommend her earlier book, THE LAST ENEMY.

Last but not least, no beach reading would be complete without a Donna Leon book. We're seeing a strong passion here in Vermont for this series -- maybe because Venice is so very different from Vermont, or maybe because of the gentle reserve with which Leon paints the key marriage in the book, between her lead investigator Commissario Guido Brunetti and his wife Paola, a smart, strong, woman with considerable skills in the kitchen, in childrearing, and in her work -- and a good listener when Brunetti finds himself able to talk a bit about the distress and pain that policing leads him to witness. I like DOCTORED EVIDENCE and DRESSED FOR DEATH; the latest Leon is THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS. There's good reading material on Leon's web site,, where you can also see the British cover design -- different from the US version and very nice indeed.

For another analysis of Italian mysteries, check out the summary of earlier ones provided by Dartmouth prof George Demko:

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