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Friday 16 April 2021

‘Siena’ by Phil Rowlands

Published by Williams & Whiting,
30 August 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-91126668-6 (PB

Imagine watching the fallout from a horrific gun crime incident on TV, and realizing that some of the victims were the people you loved most in the world. That's the kind of nightmare scenario film producer Phil Rowlands took on for his debut novel.

Not an enviable task, putting it on the page. The husband and son of Sara, his protagonist, are 'collateral damage' in the latest horror perpetrated by a serial assassin. Small wonder she spends the first quarter of the book so close to the edge of total insanity that the only thing that keeps her alive is not having a clue how to kill herself.

She pulls herself back, or is pulled back, from the brink by a chance meeting with psychologist Peter. A relationship blossoms between them, and eventually Sara not only finds a way to cope again, but also decides to set off on a journey to try to track down the man who killed her beloved husband and son.

The journey takes her to Siena, the home city of the intended victim – and that's when things start to get really complicated.

Sara is an artist, and sees the beautiful mediaeval city through an artist's eyes. She is befriended by Carlo, another, much better-known artist, who introduces her to dishy Paulo, a wealthy dilettante with an enviable lifestyle. Art, the city and the promise of romance help to soothe her still flayed emotions in the run-up to the world-famous Palio, the annual horse race which takes the city over for part of each summer.

But of course, not everything is as it seems. Sara's psychologist saviour has another life he has not shared with her, Paulo has his own demons, and as the Palio approaches things begin to get really complicated...

It's hard to categorize this book. It's part thriller, part murder mystery, part romance, even part travelogue: something to appeal to most tastes, you could say. As well as the more conventional elements, Siena is portrayed in glorious technicolor, and the barn conversion Sara lived with her family is also vividly described. Sara herself seems to recover rather too suddenly from her devastating trauma, and there's a slightly confusing twist at the very end; but those are minor flaws, probably down to the author's inexperience, and nothing a good editor couldn't fix.

One way of interpreting that odd little twist could be as a signal that a sequel is on the way. We'll have to wait and see...

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Phil Rowlands has worked as an actor, mainly in film and television for twenty years, appearing in over 200 film and television productions as well as many plays and short stories for BBC Radio 4. He then moved into the production side as a freelance writer and film producer. He has written feature films, TV and radio dramas, documentaries and animation series and worked as a script doctor. Currently he is in development as writer/producer on a movie set in Wales and Canada due to begin production in early 2018. As an actor he, is founder and MD of Funky Medics, a production company focussing on innovative health education and is an Honorary Associate of Cardiff University. Funky Medics is currently developing projects in India, Europe and the UK. For over ten years he has been a freelance project consultant with various Foundations and NGOs mainly working in India. He lives in Penarth near Cardiff. Siena is his first novel.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction. 

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