A veteran mystery maven weaves present-day Venice into a 300-year-old puzzle in this engaging stand-alone.
Caterina Pellegrini has much in common with author Leon (Beastly Things, 2012, etc.). Like Leon, Caterina is a scholar as well as a fan of Baroque opera. Unlike her creator, Caterina is a native-born Venetian who returns to her beloved city for an unusual temp job. Eager to get back to La Serenissima, she has accepted a commission from two venal cousins and their suave lawyer to examine the contents of two locked trunks. The trunks are believed to contain the papers of a long-dead composer. And while the cousins are hoping for rumored riches, "Jewels of Paradise," Caterina suspects that she will find the answers to a bigger mystery: whether the composer was involved in the 1694 disappearance of a German count. Along the way, she discovers the hidden story of the composer's tragic life and, perhaps, puts her own back on track. As in Leon's immensely popular Guido Brunetti series, mysteries featuring a Venetian police detective, the appeal of this book is as much in the setting as in the plot. When Caterina stops for a snack at the "ridiculously small bar that used to serve tiny pizzas topped with a single anchovy," we stop with her, and enjoy a Venetian "spritz" as well. And while this new amateur sleuth lacks Brunetti's warm family, she has her share of witty friends, such as the drunken Romanian who wonders how Fra Angelico's angels managed to don their robes over their wings. ("Velcro," she tells him.) While the plot can get a bit academic at times—mixing Catholic Church politics with music and legal terms—Leon knows when to draw back and enjoy a glass of wine.
While lacking some of the warmth of the Brunetti series, Leon's stand-alone still packs the charms of Venice into a smart whodunit.