The schoolgirl, who had stayed out of sight while the drama unfolded, waited until the launch had pulled away before she emerged from the depths of the archway. She approached the canal and stared across the palazzo, standing so close to the edge that the boatman feared she might lose her footing. The iron brace would drag her to the bottom of the canal. He coughed discreetly in warning. But she ignored him and continued to peer intently at the palazzo. The falling darkness amplified the sounds of water lapping against cement, and a piercing cry from inside the palazzo drifted across the water. What the girl did next puzzled the boatman, so much so that he spoke of it incessantly to Anna until she stopped listening, then later to total strangers. The girl bent her right knee as though curtsying to a queen, turned, and headed toward the Strada Nova. (from A Deadly Paradise, pages XV-XVI)
A Deadly Paradise is the second book in Grace Brophy's crime series featuring Commissario Alessandro "Alex" Cenni, but thankfully, it's a standalone book. Cenni is handed a case involving the murder and brutal mutilation of Jarvinia Baudler, an elderly German woman who served as a culture attaché in Italy. As Cenni and his partner/friend Elena travel from the Umbrian village of Paradiso to Rome and Venice, they learn that Baudler wasn't a very good person and the list of potential suspects is large. Cenni is willing to break the rules a bit to find the real killer, despite pressure from his superiors and the German embassy -- which is intent on recovering a document stolen by Baudler -- to quickly arrest someone and close the case. Brophy introduces readers to numerous eccentric characters, from Baudler's difficult landlady to a dying countess.
I don't read too many crime novels, so maybe I just didn't see all the clues, but I hadn't figured out the details of the murder before they were explained in the story. I prefer it that way, so I was happy. There are so many characters with ties to Baudler, it could be any of them, and I wasn't surprised when the murderer was revealed. A Deadly Paradise caught my eye because of the World War II connection. Baudler's secrets and the document sought by the Germans are associated with counterfeit British pounds produced during the war. I found this aspect of the story most interesting, but the story really focuses on the manipulative Baudler and how she created numerous enemies. Baudler was really unlikeable, so much so that while you want to know who killed her and why, you can see how someone would believe she got what she deserved. Brophy does a good job pacing the story, doling out only so much information at one time, and letting readers get into the heads of some of the minor characters
The plot linking the books in this series involves Cenni's girlfriend from two decades ago who was kidnapped and never seen again. Cenni's still in love with Chiara and regrets the way he treated her when they were together. All of the women he's been with since Chiara remind him of her. Cenni's travels to Venice lead him to believe that Chiara is still alive, and I'm looking forward to the next installment to see how (or if) the storyline is resolved. I also wouldn't mind reading the first book in the series, The Last Enemy, to see how Cenni is introduced and how the case prior to the Baudler murder shaped his character.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of A Deadly Paradise from Soho Press for review purposes. I am an Amazon affiliate.
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