Sandro Cellini stands at the window of his new office. He has sharpened the pencils, prepared some file folders, and sat wondering why he had an office at all. Sandro had been a well-respected and successful investigator in the police department that served and protected the people of Florence. After nearly thirty years on the police force, Sandro had allowed emotion to rule his decisions rather than the rules of the department. All he wanted to do was offer some comfort to a father whose child had been assaulted. Everyone knew the suspect was guilty and everyone knew that the police would never have enough evidence to arrest him or bring him to trial. Sandro explained this to the child’s father; he even identified the man everyone knew was guilty. When the father took matters into his own hands, Sandro was told to resign or face charges
Sandro’s wife encouraged him to become a private investigator, to use the skills he had developed as a police officer. She found him the office and she bought the furniture. She had placed the ad describing his services into the free paper. She hadn’t convinced Sandro that it was a good idea.
On the second day, Sandro arrives at the door of the building, inserts the key, and quickly withdraws it. Why go in so early? He remembers from detective fiction and TV shows that no one every goes to a private investigator’s office before mid-afternoon. Why not go for coffee and get acquainted with the neighborhood? As he turns, he discovers a woman standing behind him, holding the ad in the free newspaper. She wants to hire him. She introduces herself as Lucia Gentileschi and she wants to hire Sandro to prove that her husband did not kill himself.
Claudio Gentileschi was eighty-one years old when he walked into the Arno River. He was Jewish and a survivor of the camps and the police are telling her that the experiences of his youth likely have caught up with him. But Lucia refuses to believe it. They were married fifty years and she knows that Claudio would not leave her to face the future alone. He is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease but the losses of memory and personality have not yet appeared. Claudio would not have killed himself.
Iris March and Veronica Hutton are in Florence to take art classes. Iris and Ronnie, nineteen, knew each other from school although they weren’t close friends. Ronnie’s family has money; Iris’ does not. Ronnie’s mother rented an apartment for the girls and, in exchange for her share of the rent, Iris was expected to keep an eye on Ronnie and to dissuade her from following through on some of her least least well considered plans. Iris is not surprised when Ronnie doesn’t show up for class the day after their Halloween party. Ronnie’s attendance at the Studio Massi is spotty at best and she left it to Iris to invent excuses for her absence. This time, Iris is able to tell Paulo Massi, truthfully she believes, that Ronnie is in the hills in the north, visiting wealthy friends of her parents who are renting a castle. Ronnie plans to be gone until the end of the week so Iris is free of the burden that requires her to invent stories as cover for her roommate.
The art students are working diligently throughout the afternoon when two men arrive to speak privately with Massi. Iris is taken by surprise when Massi asks her to come into his office. The two men are police officers and they have Ronnie’s leather bag. Does Iris recognize it and does she know where Ronnie is ? Iris gives them the name of the couple Ronnie is visiting; a call to the castle elicits the information that the family are in England and won’t be back until the spring. Iris and the police have reached a dead-end.
Sandro is surprised when he receives a call from Serena Hutton, Ronnie’s mother, who is in Dubai selling a horse. Serena had learned of Sandro’s new business from his landlady and she hires him to find her daughter. She tells him to contact Iris who will give him the information he needs to locate her daughter, who is no doubt off having a good time. Iris senses that something terrible has happened to Ronnie and soon she and Sandro become partners in the project to find Ronnie.
As the story progresses, Sandro finds himself dealing with the art community, the ever-changing groups of serious artists and the less serious who want to have the Florence experience. Iris is becoming increasingly convinced that Ronnie is in serious trouble. At the same time, Sandro is reliving the last day of Claudio’s life. Did something happen that day to push this man into taking an irrevocable step that his wife insists is out of character?
November in Florence is not the Florence of the guide books. The terra-cotta buildings are not glowing in the sun light. This first week in November is cold and it rains steadily and heavily. The residents of the city are beginning to fear that there may be a repeat of the disastrous flooding of 1966. The tourists are never completely gone from the city that includes the Uffizi as one of its landmarks. The sale of masterpieces and the sale of copies of those masterpieces swirl around the city. Art and life are joined in all aspects of Florentine life. As Sandro becomes aware of the ties that bind the residents of the city to each other, he realizes that someone, somewhere, in the city is the link, that ties his cases together.
The Florence of Christobel Kent is unlike the sunny Sicily of Andrea Camilleri. It is also not the various cities of Italy that visited by Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen. And it is definitely not the Venice of the warm and loving Brunetti family created by Donna Leon. That is a good thing because it gives readers the wonderful opportunity to decide which of these authors they should read next.