The first in a series, Valjan’s debut novel explores the hidden history preserved beneath the streets of Rome and the even more elusive world of covert government agencies.
Alabaster Black is a government analyst on the run after she compromises her position in a secret U.S. government operation called “Rendition.” Her flight brings her to Rome, but, unfortunately, her former employers are hot on her trail. In the Eternal City, she meets Dante—a government investigator, amateur archaeologist and possible love interest—who lets her in on a huge case involving Mafiosi and stolen historical artifacts. Dante’s passion for underground cave exploration leads the pair on several subterranean adventures during which they are afforded a unique view of Rome’s history, while Valjan’s passion for Rome colors his crisp, idiosyncratic descriptions of its geography, history and customs. There are also keen depictions of Roman social life and the media. Such attention to detail not only makes the city a character, it also makes for a more believable narrative. Although this isn’t a traditional high-octane thriller, the book still manages to incite frantic page-turning and knuckle-biting reactions. Weapons and car chases are as deftly handled as pasta and bruschetta. Sophisticated subplots are conflated with ease and cleverly extended toward a sequel. Twists and turns are convincingly executed, but the artfulness of the structure is not mirrored in rhetorical finesse. For the most part, the author writes with a skilled hand, although important information can be revealed much too bluntly, and the dialogue is sometimes inorganic.
Despite minor flaws, the strong, captivating heroine and an allure of conspiracy and organized crime make this novel an undoubted success.