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Friday, May 13, 2011

The Drowning River, by Christobel Kent (hardcover, $24.99) (c2009)

Florence has known centuries of intrigue and dark deeds. Home of the infamous Medici family, Machiavelli, and Dante. Cradle of Renaissance art. Alluring, mysterious, and inspirational. In this case, Christobel Kent has been inspired to create a novel that inserts us foreigners into everyday Florentine life. Kent has designed a puzzle that uses art, the River Arno, the flood of 1966, and a police detective forced into retirement.

Iris March is a young art student from England, via the south of France. She has been given a place to stay and tuition to an art class in order to be the companion/watchdog to another young woman, Veronica "Ronnie" Hutton. Sure enough, Ronnie doesn't show up for art class one day. It isn't long before her disappearance is attributed to more than just youthful folly and indolence.

In another part of the city, Sandro Cellini begins his new career as a private detective. It was not long ago that he was an official police detective and he mourns his premature departure from the ranks -- caused by compassion, not dereliction. His wife Luisa supports and nags him into continuing on his new path. As he waits, clientless, in his new office for something to happen, something does. As he gazes out his window to the street below, he sees a young woman, excitedly hurrying along. Sandro pulls back in embarrassment when she looks up and sees him watching.

Sandro soon has more to keep his mind occupied, however, when his first client shows up. Lucia is a widow whose husband, an elderly man with Alzheimer's, was recently found drowned in the River Arno, a suicide. Claudio would never have left her, she insists. There is foul play, surely.

It certainly seems inevitable that these stories will intersect at some point. And, indeed, through a convoluted but intriguing set of circumstances, Sandro becomes acquainted with Iris as she searches for her roommate. We meet people from Sandro's past and present lives, Iris' feckless fellow art students, the proprietors of the art school, and interesting residents of Florence.

Throughout the book, the rain falls in ever-increasing amounts. There is a danger that a flood like the one in 1966 threatens the city and its irreplaceable art again. The clock ticks and the river rises as Sandro, Luisa, and Iris work to solve the mysteries of Claudio and Ronnie. Evviva, Firenze!

P.S. Despite the thousands of people who roam the streets of Florence, of course, the young woman passing Sandro's window was ... Ronnie.

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