Today’s From the Vaults post was prompted by one of the many emails I receive telling me about ebook promotions. Lucretia Grindle’s The Villa Triste was being offered for £1.89 (no idea for how long, so do check if you’re clicking). It made me remember how much I loved her books – and wonder whatever happened to her. I’ve spent ages this afternoon, searching on line, but she seems to have vanished without trace – and then it makes you wonder why Amazon have suddenly decided to discount one of her books. If anyone finds out anything about her, do please let me know – the best news ever would be that she’s still writing, and has another book underway.
Meanwhile, let me share some reviews. There were two early detective stories that I haven’t read, but her four main novels were absolutely wonderful. The first, Nightspinners, may not appeal to everyone – although I loved it – but the other three are probably the best blend of dual time writing combined with thriller/detective elements and strong female characters that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
The Nightspinners (2003)
Growing up in rural Georgia, Susannah and her twin, Marina, could silently communicate in a secret language they called “nightspinning.” But as they grew older, Susannah became tired of having a doppelganger, particularly one who could read her every thought; and so after college, when their mother died, Susannah made her escape.
As an adult, Susannah cannot shake the feeling that she has abandoned and betrayed her sister. And when Marina is the victim of a brutal murder — the perpetrator of which has not yet been caught — Susannah’s guilt becomes nearly unbearable. When she experiences a series of inexplicable events — a funereal flower arrangement sent anonymously, the sound of someone humming a childhood song in the dark, a lock of hair taped to her mirror — and then learns that similar events preceded Marina’s murder, she is forced to ask herself: Is the same person now coming after her? Is she going crazy? Or is Marina trying some form of nightspinning from beyond, in order to warn her or seek revenge?
A chilling, hypnotic read, The Nightspinners is psychological suspense at its best.
My 2011 review
To start with, I wasn’t at all sure what genre I was reading – could be southern memoir, could be something with a ghostly occult edge? It then steps up into a gripping murder mystery/thriller, very edgy, exceptionally well written, and it had me on the edge of my seat. A most unusual read, and really highly recommended.
The Faces Of Angels (2006)
A sweltering day in Florence, and newly-wed art student Mary Warren breaks away from her tour group in the Boboli Gardens to wander into a shady tunnel of trees. But the tranquil setting conceals a complex maze and a masked killer: within minutes Mary has been severely attacked and her husband brutally murdered.
A year later and the ‘Honeymoon Killer’, Karel Indrizzio, is dead and Mary is living a restless life in Philadelphia. Her scars are a constant reminder of that dreadful day, but in an effort to help her forget, her friend – attractive journalist, Pierangelo – invites her to return to Italy.
However, in this city Mary’s dark secret cannot stay buried for long. For there is a new menace stalking the women of Florence, and his technique is startlingly reminiscent of her own attacker’s. Piero is following the deadly trail and Mary soon recognizes terrifying implications and patterns in his research: either this is a copycat, or her husband’s murderer is still at large.
My 2011 review
I’m not really much of a thriller/murder reader (ah, how things have changed!) but this was in a different class. One of the main characters was really Florence itself – you really live and breathe it, walk the streets, stand on the balconies, feel the fear in the dark alleys. And there’s a pervading atmosphere of fear and danger all through this book – there’s times I really needed to take a really deep breath! The mystery is really well constructed – fantastic clue dropping, twists and turns, and just as you feel you’ve cracked it along with Mary it slips from your fingers again. I thought it was absolutely superb, and can’t wait for her next book. Write faster Lucretia!
The Villa Triste (2010)
Florence, 1943. Two sisters, Isabella and Caterina Cammaccio, find themselves surrounded by terror and death; and with Italy trapped under the heel of a brutal Nazi occupation, bands of Partisans rise up.
Soon Isabella and Caterina will test their wits and deepest beliefs as never before. As the winter grinds on, they will be forced to make the most important decisions of their lives. Their choices will reverberate for decades.
In the present day, Alessandro Pallioti, a senior policeman agrees to oversee a murder investigation, after it emerges the victim was once a Partisan hero. When the case begins to unravel, Pallioti finds himself working to uncover a crime lost in the twilight of war, the consequences of which are as deadly today as they were over sixty years ago.
My 2010 review
This is one that’d appeal equally to those of you who like detective fiction (Pallioti’s a really endearing character, a bit of a Florentine Morse with his slightly rougher sidekick, Enzo) and romantic dual time narrative. The book opens with Isabella and Caterina, two fairly well-off sisters in Florence in 1943, and tells of their growing involvement with the partisans as the Allies move North through Italy to drive out the Germans. We then switch to the modern story, the murders of some elderly ex-partisans – but the sisters’ stories continue through Caterina’s notebooks. It all feels very well-researched, is beautifully written (longish, but a real page-turner) with a strong sense of place: the wartime story is gripping and emotional, and the detective story is really well done. The tying together at the end is absolutely spot-on (I almost guessed it, but not quite…) – I do hope she writes more Pallioti stories.
The Lost Daughter (2011)
In Florence, a young American student goes missing. At first neither Alessandro Pallioti, one of the city’s most senior policemen, nor Enzo Saenz, his deputy, are too concerned. But soon the men are horrified to discover that the older man Kristen has been spending time with is Antonio Tomaselli, a member of the notorious Red Brigades. Then, before the police can get a handle on the case, Kristen’s step-mother, Anna, also vanishes. Before long Enzo finds himself enmeshed in a web of false identities, betrayed loyalties, and revenge. At its centre is Anna, a woman he is increasingly drawn to, but knows he should not trust; and at stake is the life of an eighteen year old girl. With the horrors of the past rising behind him and the women’s futures hanging in the balance, Enzo Saenz is on unfamiliar ground and playing the most deadly game of his life.
My 2010 review
I absolutely loved this one. It starts slowly, and you think you might be reading a routine police procedural about the kidnap of a 17 year old American girl, albeit with likeable character detectives in Pallioti and Enzo. Pallioti’s very much the professional policeman, the gentleman, a self contained man with strong family values. Enzo’s a bit more of a maverick, with an unrequited passion for Pallioti’s sister, a ponytail, and a characterful cat at home.
But then things turn – we’re back in the 70s with the Italian Red Brigades and the kidnap of Aldo Moro, and the past lives of the key characters. Angela the butcher’s daughter, her friendship with Barbara, her love affair with Antonio Tomaselli and the way their lives were changed by the dramatic events. This is really superb writing – a taut and compelling modern narrative, a strong sense of place, and a vivid reality in the 70s passages and the lives of real people. There are twists and turns throughout, love and its consequences, and the dramatic finale – and its aftermath – totally compelling. A wonderful unputdownable read, and highly recommended.
And, sadly, there were then no more. Do seek out these wonderful books…
And this is the only biography I can find;
Lucretia Grindle was born in Boston Massachusetts and grew up spending half her time in the United States and half her time in the UK. Continuing as she started out, she still splits her time, but now calls the coast of Maine home.