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Category Archive for 'Italy'

I had great hopes for this current novel, Darkness for the Bastards of Pizzofalcone, since author Maurizio de Giovanni had given just enough individualization of his four main characters in the previous novel, The Bastards of Pizzofalcone, to make me think he might go further this time, bringing his main characters even more fully to life; his use of some trademark humor in that novel also made me think that might continue in this novel. The first half of Darkness…. was in keeping with my high expectations, despite the emphasis on the word “darkness” in the title. The novel begins with the kidnapping of Dodo, a ten-year-old boy who brings his Batman action figure with him, the boy is not mistreated, despite his being confined to a dark room, and he chats with Batman – and the reader – without much sense of fear. That plot line is paralleled throughout by a second line in which a robbery takes place at the home of a well-to-do couple, though what is stolen is a mystery. A third line, which is included in the narrative but not as an investigation, involves a priest, Brother Leonardo Calisi, a good friend of Deputy Captain Giorgio Pisanelli, who is suffering from prostate cancer. The second half is less successful.

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Marian Evans, the author known as George Eliot, is sixty years old as this biographical novel opens in June, 1880, and she is on the train to Venice for her honeymoon with new husband, John Walter Cross, a handsome young forty-year-old. Hiding her face behind a white lace mantilla so that she will not be pestered by fans of her books begging for autographs, she believes that the mantilla, “though not completely hiding her face…distracted from it, from her large nose and broad jaw, and she welcomed this because she believed that she was homely.” She had lived happily with philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes from 1854 until his death in 1878, and though she called herself Mrs. Lewes, they had never married. Lewes, already married, had an “open marriage” in which his wife ultimately had four children by another man, all of whom Lewes supported, and he was legally unable to get a divorce. As the train bearing the newlyweds heads toward Venice and a new life, Evans has reason to be alarmed by her new husband’s behavior – “It was as if he were drifting away from her, going farther and farther into his own world, and she didn’t know why.” He’d been frantically making plans for the wedding and their house in London; he hadn’t been sleeping; and he’d hardly been eating. Though he’d been as attentive to her needs as always, he was now hyperactive, operating at a level of speed and intensity she had never seen before, constantly moving and unable to relax. Author Smith’s research makes much of this novel come alive, providing both realism and excitement to this biography as she recreates the life of this intelligent scholar/author and how she became a success as a novelist.

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Daniel Silva’s fourteenth novel featuring Gabriel Allon, an Israeli secret service agent who also works as a restorer of fine art, starts with the gruesome torture murder of a former diplomat to the Middle East, found hanging by his wrists from the chandelier of an estate on Italy’s Lake Como. The victim, suspected of being both a collector and an exporter of stolen paintings from Italy, is well known to General Cesare Ferrari, head of the Art Squad of Italy, and Ferrari knows whom to contact to investigate this case about stolen art, who buys it, and why. Gabriel Allon, who is currently in Venice restoring an altarpiece, made his reputation with the Israeli secret service when he was a young man, when he personally tracked down and executed six Black September terrorists who killed eleven Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972. Ferrari asks him to help find the murderer of Jack Bradshaw at an estate along Lake Como. Bradshaw is believed to have been a collector of stolen art masterpieces, and he may also have been an exporter of them. The condition of Bradshaw’s body, which bears the marks of extreme torture, lead Ferrari and Allon to speculate that the murderer may have succeeded in gaining whatever information he needs to retrieve and sell the paintings Bradshaw is believed to have in his possession. Allon must follow the money trail, and it points in the direction of the leader of a Middle Eastern country.

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Maurizio de Giovanni, whose Neapolitan noir novels have sold almost a million copies, may be the only author who has ever featured a murder committed with a “snow globe” containing a hula dancer playing a ukulele. Famous primarily for his series of seven noir mysteries set in Naples during the rule of Benito Mussolini and featuring Inspector Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi, de Giovanni has also developed a second series, this one set in contemporary Naples. Following The Crocodile, the most violent and horror-filled of all de Giovanni’s novels, The Bastards of Pizzofalcone, the second in this series, includes some of the author’s trademark elements of dark humor and irony, missing from The Crocodile. Returning to the character-based novels which made the Ricciardi series so popular, de Giovanni develops a large cast of characters, who may become “regulars” in future novels. These include four “damaged” police officers, the “bastards,” who have been assigned to work in Pizzofalcone, a steep, hilly area to the southwest of central Naples. All have had career problems and must now prove themselves in Pizzofalcone, where a widespread scandal involving police corruption and connections to the Neapolitan Mafia, known as the Camorra, has led to massive dismissals. These new officers will have only a short period of time to prove their worth or they will be dismissed and the Pizzofalcone precinct closed. As they begin to investigate a murder and the possible detention of a young woman against her will, they all begin to learn more about themselves.

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Brunelleschi’s Dome opens with a description of the city of Florence in 1418, when it is holding a competition for artists or architects to produce a model or design for the vaulting of the main dome of the large new cathedral being built there. Six weeks are allowed for the candidate to produce his sample work for the dome, which will complement the cathedral campanile on which the artist Giotto has worked for twenty years. Because of the proportions of the work already completed, the crowning dome will have to be the highest and widest dome ever built – higher and wider than the 143’ 6” diameter of the Pantheon built in Rome a thousand years earlier and never duplicated. The Gothic architecture popular in the rest of Europe, with its flying buttresses to draw the weight of large arches and domes away from the center of the cathedral, does not appeal to the Florentines, who want something different for their cathedral. The finalists in the competition are Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith and clockmaker, and Lorenzo Ghiberti, a worker in bronze who has designed the doors of the Baptistery of Florence. Detailing the issues that Brunelleschi faced for twenty-five years as he designed and built the dome of the cathedral, Ross King makes the complex engineering and structural feats of building this dome understandable to the lay reader and makes Brunelleschi’s behavior human

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