ROMANCE

Signatures in Stone: A Bomarzo Mystery

Caravel: Pleasure Boat Studio. 2013. 285p. ISBN 9781929355907. pap. $18. MYS
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Ensconced by her forceful publisher Nigel in a rundown villa in the Italian town of Bomarzo, writer Daphne DuBlanc (Marilyn Mosley is her nom de plume) is stuck for an idea for her next Edna Rutherford mystery. It doesn't help that she has smoked the last of the hashish she secretly brought from Paris. "Without inspiration I could not write. What was needed was a new batch of signatures, those curious messages our waking life sends us from our unconscious, which I have come to see as promptings from the muse, and even as a spiritual guide for my own existence." But as she begins to explore the villa, which is filled with priceless artistic treasures, and the neighboring 16th-century sculpture garden known as the Monster Park, Daphne finds signs and clues—a broken head of a china doll, a pearl button, an ancient map—to deeper mysteries about this strange place and its inhabitants: the gatekeeper Manu and his daughter Amelia, Professor Firestone, an American art history scholar writing about the Monster Garden, Clive, a novice painter, and even the down-at-heel aristocratic Nigel.
VERDICT Deftly mixing fascinating art history and murder with an exotic atmospheric setting (the Bomarzo garden actually exists), dramatic historical period (1928 fascist Italy), and fully fleshed characters, Lappin (The Etruscan) has written a hallucinatory gothic mystery in which no one is as they appear. Daphne is a most memorable, if a bit unreliable (thanks to her opium habit), narrator. Readers looking for an intelligent summer mystery will find much to savor here.

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