Book Review: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

The Italian Party
Christina Lynch
St. Martin’s Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-14783-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany’s famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.

When Scottie’s Italian teacher―a teenager with secrets of his own―disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael’s dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.

Scottie and Michael are children of their times, as they say, and those of us who remember the 1950’s will certainly recognize them. They scream “American” with their enormous, flashy Ford Fairlane, their marriage is something of a convenience and they barely know each other, and they’re much, much wealthier than the Italians they want to live among. Michael is undoubtedly the head of the household and Scottie is the demure wife who follows her husband’s lead; in fact, Michael appreciates that she knows how to be a good, supportive wife. After all, her education at Vassar led to her Mrs. degree and she upholds it beautifully.

Unlike the “Leave It to Beaver” scenario, these two are not exactly the salt of the earth but, perhaps more importantly, neither one has a clue who the other one is and major secrets begin to come out as soon as they get to their destination, Siena. On top of everything in their personal lives, Communism is nipping at their heels.

All of that sounds kind of dismal, doesn’t it? Yes, that’s true to an extent but the joy in this novel comes from watching this young couple come to terms with themselves and each other while they’re in the midst of a most unlikely spy story of their own and there are a lot of laughs to be had, the kind that make you think “caper” and “adventure”. All in all, this was totally fun and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes spies, international intrigue, comedy, romance, adventure, history, Italian food…you get the idea 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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About the Author

Photo credit Stacy Brand

Christina Lynch’s picaresque journey includes chapters in Chicago and at Harvard, where she was an editor on the Harvard Lampoon. She was the Milan correspondent for W magazine and Women’s Wear Daily, and disappeared for four years in Tuscany. In L.A. she was on the writing staff of Unhappily Ever After; Encore, Encore; The Dead Zone and Wildfire. She now lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. She is the co-author of two novels under the pen name Magnus Flyte. She teaches at College of the Sequoias. The Italian Party is her debut novel under her own name.

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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
Hardcover

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.