Sophisticated puzzler in which an unhappy Englishwoman moves to Capri to write a thriller and finds herself in a real-life mystery concerning her husband, a dead child, and an early-20th-century pedophile.
The epistolary novel, with its overtones of the 18th century, has an inescapably patrician tone, and Prantera’s (Don Giovanna, 2001, etc.) version—updated to the cyberage—stands comfortably within the tradition: The story consists of e-mails from the Duchess Lola Salvia d’Acquaviva to Simon Parks, a rare-books dealer in London. English by birth, Lola married Ferdinand, an Italian duke, and lived with him in his Naples palazzo for several unhappy years before deciding that she’d had enough. Capri seemed sufficiently isolated, so Lola moved with the vague idea of writing a novel and learning to live on her own. She first approached Simon (whose ad she’d seen in the London Review of Books) for help in finding books about the Comte Fersen, a decadent German photographer (possibly modeled on the Baron von Gloeden) who had lived on Capri some sixty years before and become infamous for his nude studies of young boys. Lola had a vague idea of basing one of her characters on Fersen, so Simon helps her with the research and the two become cyber-pals, exchanging confidences and gossip with the intimacy of old friends. The tale of the creepy Fersen is soon supplanted by a more immediate mystery, however, when Lola hears stories of a young boy, Tonino Vito, who fell to his death from the cliffs two years ago. For some reason, no one on the island is willing to talk about it, and when Lola mentions the boy to Ferdinand, he becomes incensed and orders her to stop prying into the case. So Lola has a genuine mystery on her hands, and it may determine much more than just the plot of her novel.
Witty, old-fashioned fun: told with a sharp eye, a colorful setting, and plenty of suspense.