Friday, March 28, 2014

Murder under the Italian Moon by Maria Grazia Swan

Murder Under the Italian Moon (also published as Gemini Moon) is the first book in the Lella York Mysteries. Lella, short for Donatella, is Italian-born but has lived in The States for twenty-five years with her American husband Nick, until his death four years earlier.  Despite her many years in the U.S., Lella is all Italian-woman-of-a-certain-age, adding a very Italian flavor to this story.

Here is beautiful 30 second book trailer for the Lella York Mysteries series:

At the end of her annual trip to Florence, Lella has an unsettling experience.  From that point onward, the unsettling experiences continue, broken only by the comforting company of a certain, handsome, retired Homicide detective, Larry Devlin.  Here is Lella describing how she feels, halfway through the book:
I felt clueless and nervous--pretty much the same way I'd been feeling ever since I came back from Italy.

The book's new cover reminds me of the classic Italian product posters by artist Marcello Dudovich so I will illustrate this page with them

Larry, a ladies man, is quite taken with Lella, to her bewilderment.  She overhears him speaking with a former colleague from the police force:
I walked away and overheard Larry say, "She's Italian."  He sounded pretty pleased with that statement.  I wasn't sure if it was because he'd never met an Italian woman before of if he liked Italians in general.  Either way, I decided to take it as a compliment.
The beginning of the book, in Florence, Italy, is very evocative, with wonderfully accurate descriptions of Florence around the Ponte Vecchio, the Old Bridge.  The story then moves to Southern California, where the setting is just as convincingly conveyed.  I requested a review-copy of this book because of the initial setting, but mainly because the protagonist is Italian.

Lella, the protagonist, recounts in a first person narrative the story along with flashbacks to her life with and without her husband, Nick.  Lella is a woman who has been a rather passive passenger on life's journey up to this point in her life.

I felt frustration, at times, at Lella's passivity, but then I realized that it is precisely that passivity that is key to the events happening.  It is also what Lella learns about herself, and tries to change.  She laments at one point:
Why can't relationships come with an instruction manual for unsophisticated adults like me?
And at another time:
I couldn't handle emotions, and at the moment emotions ruled every aspect of my life.  Better learn how to deal with it.  In a hurry.

Lella's Italian upbringing is a major force in her dealings with her husband, friends, son, and the police and lawyers.  They find her puzzling, endearing, awkward, emotional, passionate and moody, but they also feel protective of her.  She may have lived in the U.S. for twenty-five years, but she is still a fish-out-of-water in so many ways, even seeming ditzy at times.  You can take the woman out of Italy, but you can't take Italy out of the woman!

The book has received a prestigious HOLT Award of Merit
  Murder Under the Italian Moon (as Gemini Moon) was also a top ten finalist in the reader nominated best Indie Books awards sponsored by IndieReCon.

Murder Under the Italian Moon is suspenseful, well-written, well-edited, and it builds very nicely, and very quickly since the book is about 185 pages long.  I found the book to be a smooth, compulsive, can't-put-it-down kind of read, almost like a dream/nightmare that won't stop.  The writing pulls you forward.  It is easy to imagine the story filmed, with an attractive, mature actress playing Lella, a woman with many life experiences behind her, and many more interesting experiences to come.

From the book's description:
When Lella York went vacationing in Italy, she never imagined the mess she'd come home to. Upon her return her best friend, Ruby, is missing, Ruby's husband is dead, and suddenly the police have more questions for Lella than answers...especially one sexy veteran detective whose attentions have Lella's hormones dancing a tarantella.
But is his interest in Lella genuine, or does he have a more sinister agenda? Lella is determined to find out. But when she takes it upon herself to find the elusive Ruby, Lella's past and present collide, unearthing more secrets than she could have imagined lay buried in her sleepy town.
From Florence, Italy to the sunny coast of California, Lella uncovers a web of lies that will change her life forever...if she can get out of it alive.

Lela York is the protagonist of a proposed series of romantic mysteries:
  1. Murder Under the Italian Moon (also published as Gemini Moon)
  2. Death Under the Venice Moon (reviewed on this site)
  3. Murder Under a Desert Moon

Murder Under the Italian Moon and the Lella York Mysteries are published by Gemma Halliday Publishing, a small publishing house that specializes in romantic mystery series.
We are a boutique publisher of light-hearted mystery, romantic suspense and romantic comedy novels, perfect for popping into your beach bag for a weekend away or cozying up beside a warm fire for a quiet night in.

Here is a direct link to Murder Under the Italian Moon at, where it is available as a Kindle e-book and a paperback book:

The book's new title is a bit deceptive.  Only the first scenes take place in Italy.  They are very evocatively described, and most happen on the Old Bridge, the Ponte Vecchio.  Here is two minute video postcard of Florence, Italy.

The author, Maria Grazia Swan, has another series that features an Italian woman who has moved to the U.S., The Mina Calvi Adventures series (reviewed on this site).  There are four books so far, available both as Kindle e-books and as paperbacks.

Here is a beautiful 30 second book trailer for the Mina's Adventures series:


Here are direct links to the books 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.


  1. Dear Candida, I want to hug you, a big, warm hug, Italian style. You so get my Lella. I had goosebumps dancing up my spine while reading the review!! Grazie mille, son tutta emozionata. Ciao Candida.
    P.S. I'm Veneta and I do have another series but you probably already know that.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Maria. I love hearing from writers and readers. I'm glad I got Lella right. She is a complex character. Lots of fun. I'm looking forward to her next adventure. I'll check out your other series right away.