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by David P. Wagner
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2013
224 pages
ISBN: 1464201900

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's hard not to like a mystery set in Tuscany, particularly when it is done as well as COLD TUSCAN STONE, the first in a new series featuring translator Rick Montoya. The son of an Italian mother and an American father, he grew up in Rome but moved to the US. After moving back from New Mexico to Rome, an old Roman schoolmate Beppo (now working at the Ministry of Culture) asks Rick to pose as a liaison for an American art gallery.

Montoya is sent to the Tuscan hill town of Volterra, where he is tasked with meeting up with gallery owners and those in the art and antiquities import/export business, all in an attempt to draw out potential illicit traders in Etruscan burial urns. There's a thriving illegal business in art in Volterra, Rick soon learns, both from forgers and from those trying to export Italy's heritage for the sake of greed.

As if the cloak and dagger business of art and antiquities in Volterra weren't enough for the amateur Montoya, soon after arriving one of the sculptors he meets is murdered. As a foreigner in a very small town, he soon becomes a suspect and the source of endless fascination for locals, who are all trying to figure out the murder mystery.

While the mystery is well done, it's the charm of Volterra (its history, art and cuisine) that truly enhances the storyline. Characters exude their Italian dispositions and teach Montoya how to be more comfortable amongst them. It's a captivating atmosphere, even as it adds to the plotline and complexity of the situation.

There are enough viable villains to keep readers changing their minds throughout the tale's telling, but it is the ambiance that sets the tone for this new series of mysteries by a former Foreign Service officer who was once based in Italy. So enthralling is the novel that it's entirely possible readers will soon be adding Volterra to their list of places to visit when traveling to Italy next.

Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, August 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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