Ah, Umbria. Maybe there would be mouth-watering descriptions of food. Maybe it would be more a travelogue than mystery. Either way, I was good. IMHO, an author can't go wrong with a book set in Italy. Grace Brophy's book is not a tourist guide, however, but she does give us a peek into life among the Umbrians. She's not so long on food descriptions, but her readers can feel the satisfaction of a good cuppa joe, Italian style.
Although aristocratic ranks were abolished in a governmental leveling process, there are many people, descendants (or pretenders) of tribal families, who insist on their lordly due. One such is Count Casati. Although his wife is English born and raised, she insists on being addressed as Countess. Aristocratic lineage does not, however, immunize them from death, the "last enemy." Their niece, an American, is found murdered in the family crypt.
Enter Commissario Alessandro "Alex" Cenni, who also has foreign roots – his grandmother Hannah is from Sweden. And Rita Minelli, the niece, had a Canadian friend who is supposedly doing an academic study in Assisi and becomes a suspect. And one of the other suspects is a refugee from Croatia. Does anyone not have foreign connections?
Alex Cenni is also wealthy. His Swedish grandmother and Italian grandfather started a modest chocolate company, which is now a major chocolate company. And Rita sold her mother's house in America after the mother's death, so she has some lira, too. The wife of one of Cenni's colleagues is wealthy and connected. Does anyone not have rich connections?
Cenni's personal story is more interesting than the murder – and less convoluted. He is an atheist and has a twin brother who is a priest. It has been about fifteen years since the love of his life was kidnapped and never found, and he has never gotten over it. It is why he became a police officer, to find out what happened to her. His grandmother is more than the generic feisty oldster. Her few scenes in the book give the book a punch. He has a good, friendly relationship with his homicide team and his cat, Rachel. He's a character whose quirkiness covers a lot of bases.
Back to the murder. Rita irritated just about everyone, so there are a lot of suspects. But why was she found at the cemetery? Was she paying respects to her ancestors when she was murdered? Cenni and his team must interview the suspects, while tiptoeing around some of the haughtier ones. Every suspect is a character – as in eccentric – so it is a relief that a couple of the police officers seem relatively normal.
This debut novel held my interest despite having to juggle a multitude of plotlines, and I thought the resolution was clever. Bring on the next installment.