After a successful debut in last year’s Cold Tuscan Stone, Italian-American expatriate Rick Montoya living in Rome as a translator and doing a bit of amateur sleuthing on the side, returns in David P. Wagner’s sophomore effort, Death in the Dolomites. While on a skiing vacation in Campiglio in the southern Italian AlpDeaths with his Italian college buddy, Montoya is asked to assist the police in the case of a missing American banker as an interpreter for the missing man’s sister. When it is discovered that the man has in fact been murdered, that Montoya had played a significant role in solving the Tuscan case, and perhaps most significantly that his doting uncle is a big shot in Roman police circles, Rick becomes a major part of the continuing investigation.
Although Wagner’s plot is that of a fairly conventional “who done it,” he does manage to throw in a surprise or two while leaving the reader with a satisfying solution. There is a bit of violence here and there, but this is not a blood and guts thriller. There is a bit of sex, but it happens off the page and is cleverly pointed for the reader just in case he missed the obvious. There is a ton of atmosphere, and this is where Wagner is at his best, in the development of some of the supporting cast and his ability to capture the area’s local color.
Beginning with Luca Albani, the affable investigating detective in charge of the case working through the various town’s people, suspect and otherwise, to the beautiful, spoiled sister of the banker, Wagner displays a masterful skill in characterization. Albani is one of those unlikely detectives. Whether he is sneaking into the local confectioner’s for a bag of chocolates, or glorying in his newly purchased deerstalker, he is believable as an official willing to let an amateur intrude in his investigation. In a profession where territoriality is all, he seems to have no ego. Indeed, in many ways he is the most interesting character in the book.
Add the glad handing mayor who doubles as the local wood carver, looking for re-election; his opponent, Aunt Mitzi, the local baker; a ruthless housing developer and an equally ruthless hotelier; a beautiful ski instructor who happens to be divorced from the mayor, and you’ve got the makings for an excellent stew. And this doesn’t even include the fervently officious young woman representing the American consul and Rick’s wine expert companion and ladies’ man, Flavio.
Then there is the food — what story set in Italy can escape without mouth-watering descriptions of primi and secondo? If you’re looking for palate pleasing, Wagner’s menus read like the work of a top chef. These are characters who eat. They eat gnocchi verdi alla gorgonzola. They eat involtini con asparagi. For dolci, there is a little panna cotta. And that’s not to mention meals including penne all’ arrabbita, carpaccio, canederli and stracotto di manzo all topped with generous sprinklings of parmigiano reggiano, and all described in loving detail. Food is nothing short of a featured character.
Death in the Dolomites is a workmanlike mystery with plenty of atmosphere. It is a most pleasant read.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00LA5XAS8]