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Vita Nuova: A Marshal Guarnaccia Investigation    by Magdalen Nebb order for
Vita Nuova
by Magdalen Nebb
Order:  USA  Can
Soho, 2008 (2008)

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Magdalen Nebb's Vita Nuova is another remarkable European police procedural from Soho Crime, an exemplary publisher of literary-quality mysteries and crime novels.

With an attention to the searing irony involved, an irony which readers will discover within Vita Nuova, the author borrows the title for her novel from the great Dante's sequence of poems in which the Italian Renaissance poet sounds the limits of his love and grief for Beatrice, the beautiful sister of one of his closest friends.

In Nebb's Vita Nuova, readers are taken to modern day Florence, Italy, where the lonely and taciturn policeman Salva Guarnaccia is working on one of his most puzzling and provocative cases. The bullet-riddled body of a twenty-seven year old woman named Daniela Paoletti has been discovered in her bedroom at the family's hilltop villa. Guarnaccia has few leads, but he immediately recognizes upon investigating the crime scene and questioning the Paoletti family that 'Nothing is what it seems.'

The dead woman's father was in the hospital at the time of his daughter's murder; the mother was clearly ailing because of either medication or alcohol consumption; the twenty-five year old sister was elsewhere, having taken her sister's three year old son to nursery school; and the meager domestic staff neither heard nor saw anything that will help Guarnaccia in his investigation.

At the same time, Guarnaccia is receiving surprising support from the prosecutor in the case, a man with whom Guarnaccia has not gotten along very well at any time in the past; the prosecutor's support, however, will prove to have important complications. Then, when everything in the case seems to have hit a dead-end, Guarnaccia gets some help from an unlikely source: a crime reporter for The Nazione tells the weary but determined homicide investigator that something in the Paoletti's family history may be of interest as it sheds some interesting light on the patriarch and his wife.

What happens for Guarnaccia in the remainder of the most highly recommended Vita Nuova - a compelling puzzle complicated throughout by plenty of red herrings and obstacles - is a shocking solution wherein blackmail, corruption, shame, secrecy, and even madness figure prominently.

Sadly, this is the final Marshal Guarnaccia Investigation because the author Magdalen Nebb died in August of 2007; there are, however, thirteen previous novels in this series, and all of them - like Vita Nuova - are first-rate police procedurals featuring an engaging homicide investigator who will remind many American readers of TV's Detective Columbo.

The bottom line is this: Make sure you get around to reading all of this superb author's work. You won't regret it!

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