MURDER IN TUSCANY – Christobel Kent

MURDER IN TUSCANY is the second book in the Sandro Cellini series after THE DROWNING RIVER.  Cellini is a former high-ranking police officer who was forced to leave his job because of a heart-felt response to the father of a victim.  Since then, Sandro has tried to develop a business as a private investigator, not an easy task without the police contacts he lost when he lost his job.  His current case has him following a seventeen year-old girl whose parents are convinced someone is leading her into bad behavior.  Carlotta’s parents are very wealthy and Carlotta is a “precious”child, conceived through medical intervention. “It was the modern world: parents so busy or so nervous they paid a private detective to watch their kid, rather than tackle their own flesh and blood head-on.  Children too precious to be allowed a wild moment or two….”  Not a job for any self-respecting former police officer but a job for a new private investigator who has to pay the bills.

Caterina Giottone, Cate to her friends, is responsible for the smooth running of the program at the Castello Orfeo.  The family don’t live in the cold and ugly medieval building; they live in comfort in Florence, sheltered by their money from anything ugly.  Orfeo has been taken over by the Trust and, after working there for six months, Cate still didn’t understand what it was about.  “Between five and ten guests arrived every ten weeks, all – or almost all – single people, and all creative people of one kind or another.  You could have described them as artists, Cate supposed, but while she always thought of artists as painters or sculptors, Orfeo’s guests might be poets or writers of novels or plays, or they might make tiny indistinct objects out of feathers and clay or compose operas using the sounds of underwater creatures.”

Luca Gallo was in charge.  He ran the place. The Director, Dottoressa Loni Meadows, was the face of the Trust but Gallo kept everything under control.  One day, when Cate arrives, there is a police car outside the kitchen.  The big car that the Director always used is missing as is the Director.  The group is shocked when they learn that Loni Meadows is dead, losing control of the big car on an icy patch on the road that led to the town.  When the accident is deemed suspicious, Luca contacts Sandro, because it was Sandro who had done the background check on Loni Meadows before she was hired.

The artists gathered for this session are the usual mix.  The two Americans in the group are Tina, an artist who works with found objects, and Michelle, a poet and and the author of librettos.  Tiziano is from Venice.  He is a brilliant pianist, a paraplegic, a man whose mood changes fill the palace with extraordinary music that brings everyone to a stop.  Alec Fairhead is an Englishman who wrote an extraordinary best seller years before and who is trying to recapture whatever it was that gave him that one book.  Per Hansen from Norway, another writer looking for inspiration.

Loni Meadows was a woman who knew how to manipulate people to her own ends.  All the guests had reason to hate Loni.  Everyone has a motive, everyone has an opportunity.  Sandro’s job is to discover who killed the Director before the Trust decides to end its sponsorship of the artist’s retreat.

This is a mystery that is character driven, fueled by the relationships that have formed since they arrived.  Sandro is getting fleshed out, becoming less the police officer and more the investigator who really has no right to ask the questions he does.

The characters in MURDER IN TUSCANY are not as compelling as the characters in THE DROWNINF RIVER.  Neither is the location bu I look forward to the next book in the series.

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