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Thursday, 20 May 2021

‘The Venetian Legacy’ by Philip Gwynne Jones

Published by Constable,
1st April 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-47213-429-5 (PB)

Today Nathan Sutherland, UK Honorary Consul in Venice, is getting married to his beautiful art restorer girlfriend Federica (Fede) Ravagnon, in a simple ceremony. Many of Nathan’s friends and quite a few members of Fede’s family including her mother Marta attend a party after the wedding in a popular local restaurant. It is at the party that Nathan sees a stranger give Marta an envelope; he is, Nathan learns, Michele Ballarin, a partner in a firm of lawyers which Michele’s father, Antonio Ballarin, had set up with Fede’s father, Elio. Michele and Fede had been childhood sweethearts but when Elio left Marta for his secretary Sofia, they had lost touch. Now the two older men are dead and the contents of the envelope, when they are revealed, come as a shock to Fede and Marta. It is Elio’s bequest of a house on Pellestrina, a long, thin island which lies between the Venetian lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. The house had been in Elio’s family for years and as a child Fede had spent many happy holidays there with Elio and her mother – despite his abandonment of Marta, he had been a warm and loving father and Fede had adored him. So, since Nathan and Fede can’t afford a honeymoon anywhere exotic and Fede, not having been back to Pellestrina since her parents’ marriage broke up, wants to revisit the past, they decide to spend a week or so on the island. However, they will have to have a companion on the honeymoon – Nathan’s bad-tempered and tyrannical cat Gramsci.

Once in the house, they make an unsettling discovery, a small but effective hand gun hidden beneath some floorboards. And then a body is found attached to a fishing boat moored in the harbour, a body that Nathan recognises – Michele Ballarin. Naturally, the police are interested in how Nathan came to know Ballarin. Then Fede is contacted by a reporter, Sonia Scarpa, from the local newspaper who wants Fede to tell her not just about her father but about his relationship with one Giuseppe Lupo. This horrifies Fede and she denies that her father had ever had anything to do with Lupo. Nathan has never heard of Lupo and Fede explains to him that Lupo had been a boss in the Mala del Brenta, the Venetian Mafia; she asserts that, whatever her father’s faults in the treatment of her mother, he would never have anything to do with the Mafia.

In addition to all this Nathan is being harassed by an objectionable little man, persistent as a bluebottle, who wants to know if Fede or her mother have told Nathan anything about Elio, about Michele and about Lupo. And there is a flashy but rather sinister young man who is, Nat learns, Albino Lupo, son of Giuseppe – what is he doing in Pellestrina, and why is he talking to the village priest? .

In fact, we have already encountered Lupo in a parallel narrative set shortly before the time of the main story. He is in prison, being interviewed by a reporter for his life story. As a boy he began as a petty criminal and became drawn into one of the various home-grown gangs then active in Venice. But, when the Italian Government misguidedly thought that one way to deal with the Sicilian Mafia was to shift some of its members to different parts of Italy, this had resulted in the Mafia taking over the Venetian gangs and organising them a great deal more effectively than they had organised themselves. Lupo had taken full advantage of this and he became well established in Venice’s criminal underworld. Was there a connection between him and Elio Ravagnan? To Marta and Fede the thought is appalling, but could it be true? In the end the Italian authorities managed to deal with the Mala del Brenta but it took a long time. This account, based largely on actual historical events, gives this vivid and entertaining story extra verisimilitude. Recommended.

Reviewer: Radmila May

Philip Gwynne Jones  first came to Italy in 1994 when he spent some time working for the European Space Agency in Frascati, a job that proved to be less exciting than he had imagined. He spent twenty years in the IT industry before realising he was congenitally unsuited to it, and now works as a teacher, writer and translator. His first novel, The Venetian Game, was Waterstones Thriller of the Month for March 2018, and a Times Top 5 bestseller.  Vengeance in Venice, the second novel in the Nathan Sutherland series, was chosen as the Waterstones Welsh Book of the Month for April 2018. The third novel in the series, The Venetian Masquerade followed in April 2019. He lives in Venice with his wife Caroline. He enjoys cooking, art, classical music and opera; and can occasionally be seen and heard singing bass with Cantori Veneziani and the Ensemble Vocale di Venezia.



Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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