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Tuesday 18 October 2016

‘A Woman Much Missed’ by Valerio Varesi

Published by Maclehose Press, 
Translated from the Italian by Joseph Farrell
11 February 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-85705-345-9

When an elderly woman asks for Commissario Soneri by name, he’s too preoccupied to respond. Recognising her as she leaves, he goes to her neighbour’s house, where his dead wife, Ada, lived in their courting days, only to find the murdered body of Ada’s former landlady, Ghitta Tagliavini …

This novel is set in Parma, in the days before Christmas, and the mist-filled streets symbolise Soneri’s difficulties as he tries to grasp the case. Both embracing and resisting his new relationship with Angela, Soneri is drawn back into Ada’s past when he finds a photograph of her and an unknown young man. As he reassesses what he knew about her, and what the foundations of their relationship were, he also has to come to terms with the way his city has changed. He remembers Tagliavini’s neighbourhood as a lively student quarter, but it’s filled now with immigrants, and the students who talked of a communist revolution have become the right-wing businessmen and lawyers who run the city. As he investigates the case, the personal and political become mixed. Soneri is a sympathetic character, the third person narrative giving warmth to his solitary reticence, and the peope surrounding him are also vividly drawn: the determined Angela, who gives Soneri affection without weakness; the old communist Fadiga who has turned tramp rather than betray his principles;  Chiastra, Tagliavini’s faithful lover; Tagliavini herself, whose personality we gradually learn. The Parma city background is a character in its own right, with Christmas shoppers and fugitives coming out of the mist and vanishing back into it. The plotting is clever, with the extent of the conspiracy being gradually revealed before the narration returns to the heart of the murder, and Soneri’s memories.

An atmospheric Italian-set PP, with memorable characters and a plot where personal and political are twined together.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Valerio Varesi has been the Parma correspondent for La Stampa and La Repubblica. Gold, Frankincense and Dust is the third in a series of thrillers featuring Commissario Soneri.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

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