Cold Tuscan Stone: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery by David P. Wagner (Poisoned Pen Press, $14.95, 250 pages)
“I was looking up at that moment, back toward the town, and that was when I saw a man falling off the wall. I didn’t hear anything, but it may have been too far away. Do people usually scream when they fall, like in the movies?”
Author David P. Wagner has a gift for dialogue that makes this, his debut mystery novel, a fresh and charming read. His main character, Rick Montoya, flows naturally from his creator’s life experience. Wagner is a retired Foreign Service Officer whose assignments included nine years in Italy. He now lives in New Mexico. The text is flavored with comments in Italian that provided a refreshing exercise for this reviewer. My four years of Italian language classes at Cal were not wasted!
The shadowy first chapter is written in a firm confident style that stays consistent throughout the book. Immediately following, the reader is introduced to Montoya, a translator who has recently relocated to Italy after some years in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Montoya’s roots in Italy include attending high school there. He is contacted by his old school buddy Beppo Rinaldi who has matured into a member of the Italian Art Squad. Beppo seeks to find purloined antiquities in order to keep them in Italy. Montoya proves to be just the undercover amateur for a puzzling case involving Etruscan graves and valuable funerary urns intended for the black market that the squad has uncovered in Volterra, a town in Tuscany.
Montoya has no sooner arrived in Volterra when a craftsman working for the first person on the list of suspects is spotted plunging down a steep hill after what appears to be a fall from a wall. To make matters worse, Montoya is the last person to see him alive. The commissario of police, Carlo Conti, is a seasoned cop who is yearning to retire after decades of public service. Conti takes on the case himself. After the death, Montoya checks in with Conti as part of his assignment from Beppo. Together, they form a secret alliance to suss out the guilty art thief from among a list of likely suspects.
Along the way, Montoya enjoys many tantalizing meals and beverages. Be prepared to develop a desire for Tuscan style Italian food, and of course at least one new pair of Italian shoes!
David Wagner, un altro libro per favore!
A review copy was provided by the publisher.