Esteemed violin maker Giovanni Castiglione turns sleuth once more.
An auspicious retinue, complete with bodyguards, pays an emergency visit to the elderly luthier’s Genoa workshop. The group is headed by Enrico Golinelli, assistant curator of antiquities for the city, and includes fiery dowager Ludmilla Ivanova. It seems that the Cannon, a priceless violin that was the favorite of 19th-century virtuoso Nicolo Paganini, needs a checkup before it’s played by the winner of the biannual international competition for the Premio Paganini. Delicately replacing the bridge, Castiglione finds himself drawn into the inner circle of Ludmilla’s son Yevgeny, a classical music star. Lunch with this brilliant violinist is interrupted by the announcement of murder. The victim is François Villeneuve, Parisian friend of Milanese violin dealer Vincenzo Serafin, with whom Castiglione has had a rocky relationship. Friend and detective Antonio Guastafe enlists Castiglione’s help in the investigation, which begins with a locked golden box. After Castiglione deduces that the combination is based on Paganini’s musical repertoire, he finds inside a letter to Paganini from Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister Elisa Baciocchi, whom Castiglione helpfully identifies as the virtuoso’s lover. Past and present combine in the probe, which is complicated by the apparent disappearance of Yevgeny, dramatically announced by Ludmilla as a kidnapping. Much of the mystery hinges on Villeneuve’s murky identity.
Prolific Adam’s second Castiglione mystery (The Rainaldi Quartet, 2006, etc.) is slow to get moving, but his story and style are of a piece—elegantly layered and intricately detailed.