If you like the Inspector Brunetti series by Donna Leon, you’ll definitely enjoy The Drowning River. Christobel Kent has created Sandro Cellini, a middle-aged former police detective, soft–spoken and much in love with his wife, a man with a great deal of humanity. Perhaps too much, as it was his humanity that caused his forced resignation from the Florence police.
After a child was kidnapped and found murdered, Sandro Cellini kept the child’s father informed about the suspect’s life, the suspect against whom there was not enough evidence to bring charges although the police knew he had killed the child. Then, years later, the suspect was found murdered, and the breach of trust that Cellini had committed came to light. He was allowed to resign so as to not blacken the reputation of the police force. Unhappy and guilt-ridden, Cellini is at loose ends until his wife Luisa tells him his skills should be put to use as a private investigator.
Four days after he opens his office, a woman walks in and tells her story. Her husband was found dead in the river, and the police believe it was a suicide. Lucia Gentileschi doesn’t. Her husband was eighty-one, considerably older than she, and had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s, but she is sure he wouldn’t have killed himself. “Why,” asks Cellini, “are you so sure?” Her answer is simple. “He never would have left me behind.” But, of course, although they were married for more than forty years, she doesn’t know everything about him.
At the same time, Cellini’s wife brings him a case of a missing English girl, Ronnie Hutton, who has disappeared from her Florence apartment and the art school where she was a student. The owner of the apartment the girl and her roommate were renting told Luisa Cellini about her disappearance, how the girl’s mother was in Dubai and couldn’t leave, and could Luisa’s husband look into the matter? Sandro Cellini doesn’t want to, but when he sees a photo of the missing girl in the newspaper he realizes that he had actually seen her in person, from his office window, early on the day she disappeared. So he’s already involved and has no choice but to get more involved. And then the two cases intersect.
There are several subplots going on as well. Luisa Cellini has found a lump on her breast, and there’s the obvious dread of what the biopsy will bring. And Ronnie Hutton’s roommate feels the police are getting nowhere and that she should become a small part of the investigation.
There’s an amazing sense of place in The Drowning River. The author takes you street by street, piazza by piazza, until the reader feels that she’s actually walking through the city. That apparently is due to the fact that English Ms. Kent has spent quite a bit of time in Florence, speaks Italian, and obviously loves the city. The novel is slow-paced, the story going back and forth between the man who drowned and the girl who disappeared.
This is definitely not your typical private eye mystery, with guns and violence, but a thoughtful look into a city and its people, both natives and visitors.
Unfortunately, Christobel Kent doesn’t have her own web site, but you can read more about her at International Noir.