“Pentimento Mori” by Valeria Corciolani

This is very different murder mystery. A story of art dealers and ancient relics, of forgeries and academics. And above all, about people. Each new character is a work of art, described in the articulate detail of an art dealer’s catalogue. And each is an individual par excellence, including one that seems to be a human-sized bird.

The interaction between the characters is typified by quick wit, both in the dialogue and in the narrator’s voice. The bantering power struggle between the art expert and the police officer is perhaps the most entertaining of the lot. Conflicts  abound on many levels, between many people.

This constant sparring is balanced by an overall sense of good humour that contrasts with the interpersonal troubles of the main character. She is a complex combination of harridan, dutiful daughter, public-spirited citizen, and hard-done-by victim. For such a self-proclaimed curmudgeon, she certainly attracts a large number of really cool friends.

The murder mystery plot is intriguing, with many unlikely but surprisingly logical twists and red herrings. However, it all hangs together beautifully right to the nicely twisted ending.

The balance rather falls apart with the historical aspect of the investigation, which is essential to the solution, but tends to take over. Chapter 43 is long and academic, laying out huge swatches of Medieval religious theory that the reader doesn’t really need to know. This opaque aspect of the writing style is compounded by the unfortunate choice of present tense, which necessitates slipping into the past for moments, then back to the present. Combined with the long, convoluted and straggling sentence structure, this slows down one’s reading speed.

The detours you will want to take are the descriptive passages. This book is written by an artist, who gives us the full benefit of her visual acuity.

Before you start this book, sit in a comfortable chair and prepare yourself for a long, slow read. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.

4 stars.

About the Author: Gordon Long

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