Friday, January 31, 2014

A Party in San Niccolo and Late Season by Christobel Kent

A Party in San Niccolo is well-written in a stately, traditional style.  It rotates point-of-view using a 3rd person limited perspective, letting us enter the heads of the various characters.  Most of the characters are British expatriates living in Florence, Italy.  They have to deal with a murder and the fact that the murderer is one of their group.  Here is the protagonist, Gina, when she arrives in Florence to stay with an old friend:
She was shocked by how dirty Florence was, too, particularly here on the south side, after half an hour spent winding through its narrow alleys.  Above first-floor level, the buildings seemed in good repair, painted, shuttered and neat, and higher up the carved eaves overhung the street elegantly deeply, but at street level the stucco was stained, peeling and scrawled with graffiti, the narrow, uneven pavements (how grateful she was to be without a child in a buggy) booby-trapped with dog shit, and blue plastic dumpsters, overflowing with rubbish, were shoved up against shabby front doors.  With weary gratitude, Gina turned into the cool marble interior of the Caffe Medici.

From the book's description:
Set during one week in springtime Florence, A Party In San Niccolo follows the events leading up to the seventy-fifth birthday party for Frances Richardson, a much-loved English resident.

Around her, Frances' friends are gearing up for the party too:  Frank, a disenchanted journalist; Jane, who runs an Italian cookery school for rich Home Counties wives; her shady husband Niccolo; and Gina, a beleaguered mother-of-three who has come to Florence for a break.

Before the week is out love, death, family secrets and old memories will come to a head at Frances' party, with dramatic results.

To be totally honest, I found I felt depressed after reading each chapter, so I had to take long breaks between them.  The cynicism is strong in the book overall, and in all the characters to a certain extent.  If you do not mind that, then you will have an interesting, leisurely read, that will transport you to the Oltr'arno area of Florence, Italy.

The writer has a strong grasp of psychology, so the various characters' behaviors ring true.  We are privy to their thinking processes.  We come to understand exactly why they behave as they do.

Late Season, by the same author, is another well-executed drama with a bit of mystery and a bit of romance.

From the book's description:
The restored Tuscan farmhouse on the edge of an ancient wood is the perfect setting for a late September holiday. 

As Justine Elliott, her friends and their families from university gather to relax and unwind, she hopes it will be a chance to put the most tragic events of the previous year behind them all.

However, the apparently peaceful Italian countryside holds as many secrets as its visitors and, before the week is out, the past and the present will collide, with unexpected and dramatic results.

Again we enter the principle characters' minds, and follow their leisurely course through this story.  There is a death, but it occurs before we join the story.  There is a resolution, too.  But this is not really a murder mystery.  We get to know the insecure protagonist, Justine, very well.  Here is Justine trying on a flattering dress in a shop:
It felt perfect.  The fastenings were clever, a bottom and a tie at the waist, it fitted closely without being tight, it crossed over just low enough at the front not to be demure and the narrow sleeves turned back in a little cuff, halfway along her forearm.  Justine couldn't see herself, but suddenly she felt as though she had a waist, a bosom, a long neck, slim wrists.  She felt like a different person.  Reluctantly, lest she be disappointed, she came out of the cubicle to look int he mirror, and when she saw herself she flushed with relief.  She turned a little in front of her reflection, seeing someone confident, independent.  Stupid, she thought.  It's just a dress.

The books are available in various formats.  Here are the paperback and Kindle (mobi) versions of A Party in San Niccolo and Late Season available at

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

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