Some books don’t drag you in.
Shadows on the Lake is not one of those. Written by Italian authors Giovanni Cocco and Amneris Magella, the story is set in the area around Lake Como and introduces police inspector Stefania Valenti, a forty-five-year-old divorcée struggling to raise her tween daughter, handle the single life, and make it to work on time. Stefania is all of us in that she’s constantly late, eating frozen pizza fairly often, and also trying to juggle what life throws at her—just that in her case, life throws a mysterious pile of bones in the mountains, on the property of a very rich, very mysterious family (of the “something is definitely up here, lady” variety).
The book holds a healthy respect for the Italian mystery basics, like that supermarket focaccia is not comparable to real focaccia from the baker, and that murder is best served cold. Preferably decades old. We’re talking World War II. Taking place in modern-day Italy but delving deeply into the war era, the plot explores issues that tunnel deep into the heart of the country: old-world power, corruption, the constant fight between the honest and the less so. It dives into pieces of history that have engraved themselves into the heart of Italy: of a war that ate the little peninsula, of people desperate to flee to safety, of the prices they were sometimes forced to pay.
Though the writing can feel a bit stilted in the beginning (which, to be fair, might just be that the book was originally written in Italian and translated writing can tend to transfer that feeling), Cocco and Magella’s storytelling soon has you walking step by step next to Stefania, eating delicious Italian pastries while trying to figure out what in the heck is going on, and taking some stunning walks through the gorgeous region in northern Italy.
The descriptions are vivid, the story intense, and the characters relatable, so fair word of warning: as the plot starts to unfurl and tantalizing clues begin to seem a glimmer of a solution, you may find yourself yelling your conclusions to the page in front of you. This can be embarrassing if, say, you’re on a train and you suddenly yell out “THOSE ARE HIS INITIALS!”
Just saying. That didn’t happen to me.
After having read it in one gulp, my opinion of Shadows on the Lake is that it’s a true mystery of the most delightful order. If you read it and, like I did, find yourself in the next days wondering how long it would really take you to get to Como, and what Stefania and Luca are up to, never fear: this is the first of an upcoming series, so there is lots more cappuccino, hiking, and murder in your future. Hopefully the first two also in real life, and the last one left firmly ensconced in the pages of a book.
Happy reading, YiR-ers!