When an unpopular restaurateur is stabbed in the back at Sophia Mancini’s family dinner party, the intrepid private eye combs through her 1940s Italian-American community on the hunt for the killer.
Mickelson’s (Carol’s Christmas, 2012, etc.) Little Italy–set murder mystery, the first of a planned series, features a wide cast of characters: an amnesiac WWII veteran, wives hoping to be widows, sleazy gangsters and cops showing up to murder scenes in baseball uniforms. At the center of it all is Sophia, who runs a newly formed detective agency with her brother, Angelo, the amnesiac vet. They’re desperately in need of a murder case to bring in some money so they can prove to the court that Angelo’s son will be provided for. At a dinner to celebrate the Mancini’s new business venture, the restaurant owner, Vincenzo, is murdered; everyone’s a suspect. The police don’t want Sophie snooping about, but the local mob boss, Frank Vidoni, hires her to solve the crime before the police do, since unauthorized murder in his territory damages his reputation as a crime lord. On the way to solving the crime, Sophie runs across numerous strange and memorable characters, including Eugene Gallo, Vincenzo’s bizarre business partner; Stella, Vincenzo’s wife, who had hoped he wouldn’t come home from the war; and Maria Acino, Frank’s beautiful but childish mistress, who always seems to materialize into a scene out of thin air. The characters make standard detective-story fare stand out. With such a large group of people to work with, readers might expect some of the characters to blur together or messily coalesce, but that’s not the case. Everyone’s well-realized and fully fleshed-out, with the possible exception of the extended Mancini family, who remain faithful to typical big, Italian-American family stereotypes. Despite the somewhat conventional, unsurprising plot, Mickelson’s novel remains compulsively readable and consistently entertaining.
An ordinary crime story improved by a dash of Italian flavor.