reviewed by Gail Byrd
One of the most delightful books I’ve read in a while, this book is a gentle, enjoyable story that will make you wish you knew and had befriended a Nonna Maria of your own. While you’re making wishes, you might wish for a trip to the Island of Ischia regularly for vacation if you can’t just out and out move there.
The people are wonderful, the pace is a beat slower than much of current chaotic life, and Nonna Maria has an intelligence and ability that comes from years of living and learning from everything around her. It’s the perfect book for anyone who wants an excellent story, great characters, and relaxed surroundings that all combine to make you feel as if you are wrapped up in a cozy blanket with a warm cup of coffee (or as Nonna Maria might suggest a glass of wine) in front of a comfortable fire with a light snow falling outside.
There is the primary story, which is a young woman who seeks Nonna Maria’s help as she finds herself having agreed to marry a man she hardly knows and an uneasy feeling this is a huge mistake. The solution that Nonna Maria sets in motion is a through line for the entire book. At the same time, she becomes involved in solving the death (murder) of a friend on his boat, the death (murder) of the head of the Carabinieri’s sister, and a host of other issues.
As Nonna Maria walks around the island she elicits help from others, some of whom are outcasts and some of whom seem to belong to a different world, but all of whom count themselves as friends of Nonna Maria. She knows the talents and the faults of all these people, she has encountered them in a wide variety of situations, and will tell you in a heartbeat that information she has is hers to have and not to share. She is able to see the deep goodness in people some might write off as law-breaking, as well as to understand the deep evil that others keep well hidden beneath a veneer of polish.
The Captain of the Carabinieri acknowledges that people seek Nonna Maria’s help before his official help. Her explanation involves the fact that the people who seek her help are from families that have been residents of the island for generations. They know one another at a level that can’t be achieved by someone who has only been on the island a few years. As for Nonna Maria, she doesn’t say she solves problems or “takes cases”, she simply helps friends and in so doing she deepens the friendship. This, in turn, helps deepen and continue the respect and caring the people have for Nonna Maria and each other.
Nonna Maria is a very different main character, one most readers will respect and fall in love with. The Island of Ischia is a delightfully different location for a mystery book, not at all like the typical English village or American tourist spot. It’s almost like the location and the people have been plucked out of an alternate universe and the reader is now privileged to get a long look at what life might be like in that universe. Much like taking a step back in time, the book affords us an opportunity to enjoy life at a slower pace, people who are content to live in that slower world. Overarching all of that is a celebration of Nonna Maria and an appreciation of what age and knowledge can bring when we stop revering youth because it looks smooth and attractive.
If Lorenzo Carcaterra writes another book featuring Nonna Maria and the Island of Ischia, sign me up; I want to be one of the first ones to read it. My thanks to Random House Publishing, Ballantine Books for providing an advance copy for this review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
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