Once again writer-sleuth Urbino Macintyre, an American expatriate in Venice, is embroiled in the affairs of widowed, English-born Barbara, Contessa da Capo-Zendrini (Black Bridge, 1995, etc.). Barbara is now hosting a weekend party (in the midst of a vicious wind-and-rain storm) aimed at a reconciliation with the Zenos—her late husband's family—a party during which she's also planning to unveil her portrait, painted by well-known artist Gemma Bellini-Rhys, of the Zeno family. Gemma's son Robert, a medievalist, and his fiancÇe are also there, along with (among others) the family matriarch Marialuisa, her daughter Bambina, and the family doctor Luigi Vasco. An unexpected guest is Molly Wybrow, a self-proclaimed mystic who's been invited by Barbara's twin cousins, Viola and Sebastian Neville, who shared an Orient Express journey from England with the purported seer. Molly herself wastes no time evoking events that go back 50 some years—events involving a series of strange deaths in the palazzo's Caravaggio bedroom, long locked and unused. Barbara reluctantly opens the room for use by her uninvited guest, but before the weekend is over, the palazzo is isolated by the storm, Molly is dead—conceivably by accident- -while the life of another hangs in the balance. Matters are made more complex by a stolen brooch, a slashed canvas, and the scent of Shalimar. Eventually, of course, Urbino sorts it all out in his usual wordy, desultory style. By then the patient reader, however, besieged by fancy names, obscure family connections, a labyrinthine plot, and endless weather reports, may not care.
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