Foreign students in Italy: One winds up dead in this awkward riff on the notorious Amanda Knox/Meredith Kercher case.
Tabitha "Taz" Deacon is Irish, an exchange student from an English university. From the outset, Crouch (Men and Dogs, 2010, etc.) designates narrator Taz as the victim; she will eventually, in a nod to Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, address the reader from beyond the grave. Taz is just one more in a centuries-old line of Umbria’s sacrificial victims, whose profiles pop up throughout the novel. In Grifonia, the stand-in for Perugia, Taz takes a particular interest in Etruscan mythology. This is commendably high-minded, but Grifonia is swarming with students itching to get laid, and Taz is lonely, with limited sexual experience. Luckily, she runs into a trio of girls who make her the fourth member of their Brit Four Society. Their leader is Jenny, and her advice is succinct: You’re only young once, so don’t take just one lover—take 10. The girls have access to all the best parties because, it emerges, they’re a drug ring: procuring, storing and selling the stuff. The failure to convince us of this is the hole at the heart of the novel. Taz must also reckon with her American roomie, Claire, who's loyal, loudmouthed, needy and too beautiful for her own good. Not surprisingly, she scores even more often than Jenny, while Taz makes out with their Italian neighbor; rough trade but satisfying. Hookups and breakups: The novel’s movement is circular, with too many characters riding the sex and drug carousel, and lacks suspense. Taz’s murder only happens because she’s pressured to connive in the drug business; the heat is on, and she hides the product in an Etruscan burial chamber, a 21st century addition to its layers of history.
A crass use of a still-active murder case.