A writing course in an Italian villa goes horribly wrong.
Writing teacher Francis Meadowes has taught off-site courses before, including one aboard a floating classroom (Cruising to Murder, 2018). So his stint at the Villa Giulia in the Umbrian countryside should be a snap. Gerry and Stephanie are excellent hosts who set an opulent table for their guests, a largely middle-aged group of highly mixed talents. But it’s the subject matter of his course rather than the venue or the students that provides a challenge for the biracial Francis. He knows practically nothing about his Botswanan father since he was adopted as a young child by a white English couple. But now that he’s teaching memoir writing, he’s reading autobiographical drafts submitted by his students, particularly a long piece by self-described “Hampstead Jewess” Zoe, whose account of her family’s Holocaust struggles makes Francis wonder how to make sense of a personal history like his, which is full of blank pages. His concerns are amplified by the presence of Sasha White-Moloney, another person of color, the only American and the only student younger than 30 in his class. But he sets aside his private concerns when Poppy Pugh-Smith, whose place as the most obnoxious student in the class is undisputed, is found murdered in the sauna. Poppy has made herself unpopular by her imperious manner and her inane stories about life at her ancestral home, the impeccable Framley Grange. But is her incessantly self-laudatory prose really enough to make someone kill her? As the Italian police press hard for answers, first confiscating the writers’ passports and eventually locking down the villa, Francis needs to find answers fast.
A neat twist on the classic English-country-house formula.