Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An Odd Italian Tale

Valerie Martin has been under my radar since the compelling "Property" (2003). I remembered the sense of mounting tension she created so well in that tale of an unhappy white slave owner and her slave. One critic suggests that her near-obscurity may be because it's hard to categorize her. She excels at creating this kind of tension and suspense, combined with sexual anticipation and discovery in "Italian Fever" (2000). Lucy Stark a sensible, quiet woman, works for a successful but very untalented writer. When he dies suddenly she heads to Italy to settle his affairs. Mystery at an Italian farmhouse, great and mediocre art, a missing manuscript, darkly arrogant neighbors, a night time phantom, and Massimo, a handsome but married Italian (of course) enter into the mix. Lucy's observations of other characters, their hidden layers, including her reactions to great art, surprising and complicated neighbors, and her own burgeoning sexuality are all described with psychological depth (with the exception of Massimo). That mounting suspension is effectively created. This is a fun, quick, absorbing read, whether you are headed to Rome or are just seeking a mystery-like escape. Valerie Martin's books are now stacked by my bedside. Stay tuned.

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