In brief: Italy is in ruins after the end of World War II. But for Caterina and her family, much more is at stake. She becomes embroiled in a dangerous game to clear her father’s name, but at what cost?
The good: This is a fast paced, historical adventure.
The not-so-good: The start is a little slow in retrospect to the cracking pace in the latter half.
Why I chose it: Haven’t caught up with Kate Furnivall’s work since The Russian Concubine – thanks to Simon & Schuster for the copy.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Setting: Sorrento, Capri and Naples (Italy)
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
Ah Italy. A place that is infrequently visited in my reading, but always a joy to read about. I know very little about the immediate post-World War II period in Italy, so when I was offered the chance to read this book, I grabbed it. I also haven’t picked up one of Kate Furnivall’s novels since The Russian Concubine – was it really nearly a decade ago? Anyway, so many things were pointing to me needing to read this book. At 553 pages, it certainly fits the definition of a chunkster but it’s a gripping read that will have the pages turning over quickly. Think of this book as a historical action-adventure with a touch of romance. So much happens and it’s an exciting ride to be on.
Our heroine is Caterina Lombardi, young woman of Sorrento who has been touched by the war like everyone else in Italy. Her father is dead after his wood veneer workshop was bombed by Allied forces. Her nonno is blind and her little brother would rather hang around the soldiers all day than go to school. Like the rest of Italy, they are nearly starving and Caterina crafts music boxes to sell to the soldiers in order to buy food. As for her mother…she left the family years ago amid a scandal that divided two families. But that was then and this is now. Italy is about survival, any way how. But when two soldiers question Caterina in relation to her father hiding and smuggling out Italy’s treasures, she knows she must try to clear his name. In trying to do so, Caterina comes up against some of the most dangerous men in Naples. It’s not a game, but a fight to the bitter end.
The main plot is about Caterina trying to find a jewelled table her father had allegedly made, but nobody reports ever seeing. Inlaid in the surface are a number of precious jewels that both Naples’ mafia and the soldiers trying to recover Italy’s treasures want. Both groups think that Caterina knows more than she’s telling them, which unluckily for her, she doesn’t. But Caterina is an inquisitive character and she will find out the truth, assisted by her ancient revolver. She’s determined and will stop at nothing to protect her family. Jake Parr, a US soldier investigating art theft, recognises this early on and assists Caterina in getting out of some of her scrapes. He also falls in love with this feisty young woman. But don’t start thinking that this is a romance novel, it’s far from it. It’s fast paced action, taking Caterina from the streets of Naples to mansions in Capri and back again. The finale is set in an unlikely place with a twist in the tale – not one I saw coming!
The book captures the atmosphere of the time and the desperation of the Italian people in a broken country but it’s not bogged down in detail. Kate Furnivall tells the reader what they need to know, then returns to the action. This is a book that both men and women would enjoy – it’s edge of your seat stuff that combines intrigue and mystery in a fast paced novel.