Book Review: The Body in the Piazza by Katherine Hall Page

The Body in the PiazzaThe Body in the Piazza
A Faith Fairchild Mystery
Katherine Hall Page
William Morrow, April 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-206550-6

From the publisher—

To celebrate their wedding anniversary, intrepid caterer and sometime sleuth Faith Fairchild and her husband, the Reverend Tom Fairchild, are off to Italy for a vacation filled with exquisite indulgences—the art, the Chianti, the food, the Ferragamos! The plan is to spend a romantic weekend in Rome before heading to Tuscany for a stay at Cucina della Rossi, a cooking school founded by Faith’s back-in-the-day assistant Francesca Rossi.

Faith is certain that the only intrigue in store for her will be learning the secret recipe for Nona Rossi’s ragu. But a thicker plot begins to simmer when the Fairchilds accidentally stumble upon a dying man in the Piazza Farnese. It’s clear from the knife in the victim’s chest that murder is on the menu.

Mysterious faces from Rome reappear in Tuscany. To Faith, this is no coincidence. And somebody is intent on sabotaging Francesca’s new business by spoiling the cream and salting the flour. As Faith struggles to follow a trail more twisting than fusilli, she may be putting both herself and her husband in hot water.

The particular pleasure of a Faith Fairchild novel is that it’s like spending an afternoon or two with an old friend and The Body in the Piazza is no exception. In fact, I’d have to say that any quibble I have with this entry in the series has to do with the setting. Italy is certainly a good place to have a cooking-related mystery but I think I prefer Faith’s adventures in the village of Aleford, Massachusetts,  or perhaps in the wider region of New England. Still, I can’t fault Ms. Page for wanting to take Faith to other places occasionally, especially when you consider that this is the 21st book in the series. If she stayed in Aleford all the time, she might be tainted with Cabot Cove Syndrome 😉

So off Faith and Tom have gone, celebrating their anniversary with a trip to Italy and, while they’re at it, helping some old friends launch their culinary school in Tuscany. Before they get to Tuscany, though, they witness the death of a very different sort of man they’d just met. “Very different” turns out to be a term that they could easily apply to some of the other guests they find at Francesca and Gianni Rossi’s school, especially since a few of them seem to be completely out of place and, when suspicious things start happening, Faith can’t resist getting to the bottom of things, with more than a little help from Tom.

Besides the characters I already knew, I found myself quite engaged with Olivia, a goth girl who really doesn’t seem to fit in, and with Roderick and Constance Nashe, even though these Brits are very aloof and unpleasant. I wanted to know more about these three just because they were so different and I’m happy to say the author satisfied my curiosity quite nicely.

When all is said and done, The Body in the Piazza is what I consider a nice, comfortable read with a few surprises (although it wasn’t hard to figure things out) and some  recipes, not to mention scrumptious descriptions of the food Francesca has the students make. I could have done with a little less travelogue and a little more puzzle but I’m still a fan of this traditional mystery series and probably always will be.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2013.

Book Review: The Bone Chamber by Robin Burcell

The Bone ChamberThe Bone Chamber
Robin Burcell
Poisoned Pen Press, 2009
ISBN 9781590583753

Feisty independent-minded FBI forensic artist Sydney Fitzpatrick is off again.  This time she bouncing between Washington, DC, San Francisco and various Italian locations.  All the while she and her cohorts dodge international hit men. Burcell is a good writer and her varied law enforcement background gives her writing a level of authority lacking in some crime fiction.

The novel is a wide-ranging tale of intrigue, sanctioned and unsanctioned black ops, the CIA, the FBI, and several other sometimes questionable agencies.  Here are active old and new world mafia figures, the Knights Templar, and several world governments.  The story dredges up long standing rumors, beliefs based on very sketchy and tenuous evidence, ancient legends and involves some vast and secretive organizations such as the Vatican, Freemasonry and maybe some left-over bits of the Tri-Lateral Commission.

Conspiracies within governments, especially those involving questionable banking institutions and practices are fruitful and always interesting. That is especially the case when the venal actions of important institutions from the distant past are held up to the unblinking gaze of modern research. This novel has ’em all.  And that’s part of the attraction of the book. Burcell has linked in an essentially fanciful way, an incredible chain of real events that reach back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and possible implications in the modern era.  The novel proves that murder, corruption and cynical manipulation with the goal of great power and wealth are not the province of our times.

If the novel has flaws it is the multiplicity of threads that wind through the book, sometimes creating a Gordian’s Knot of complexities. Nevertheless, The Bone Chamber never completely loses its foundation in the real world of plausible outcomes.  A tense and intriguing ride from start to finish.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2010.