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Thrillers, Dramas, non-series Mysteries set in Italy


One off mysteries, dramas, suspense, crime, espionage, cozy books set in Italy, or featuring a hyphenated Italian


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Italophile Book Reviews offers personal views on many books that might interest lovers of Italy.  Authors and Publishers:  I review books set in Italy, or about Italy and Italian culture, or about hyphenated Italian culture, and Ancient Rome.  My site is family-friendly. Indie (Self) published books, and small publishing houses are welcome.  Contact:   info @

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Mystery Series set in Italy

Mysteries set in Ancient Rome

Non-fiction books about Italy

Romances set in Italy

Children's Books

Historical Novels set in Italy

Italian Bestselling Writers


Espionage Books set in Italy

Suspense / Dramas set in Italy

Crime Novels set in Italy


The books featured here are thrillers:  detective-police-mystery, espionage and suspense.  They're all set in Italy for most of the story.

Each book is linked via a click on the book cover, to's page for the book.  

There you can find excerpts, sometimes links to the first chapter, back cover text, and prices for new and used copies.

Many of these books are available as paperbacks, so be sure to check before deciding one's too expensive.

This link goes directly to's Kindle page of Italy Thrillers.

 Kindle Italy Thriller Books

Espionage Books set in Italy  (Also see my Mysteries page)

Cause for Alarm by Eric Ambler

Here's a classic by the master spy-writer Eric Ambler.

From a Reader's Review: 

It's the late 1930's and the European continent is poised on the brink of war. British engineer Nicholas Marlow accepts a position in the Milan office of a machine tool manufacturing company known as Spartacus.

Since Spartacus' products are used in the production of munitions, Marlow has access to information of value to those engaged in espionage.
A bit naive, Marlow is rather easily sucked into the cloak and dagger intrigue endemic to that time and place and rather unfortunately incurs the wrath of Mussolini's secret police.

Cause for Alarm is an engaging spy novel that has a smooth narrative flow. Moreover, Ambler's detailed knowledge of his subject matter is quite apparent. A solid 4 stars for this early contribution to the genre. Well worth reading.



The Broker by John Grisham

From Publishers Weekly:  "...what happens to ruined D.C. powerbroker Joel Blackman, 52, when he's suddenly released from federal prison after six years. ... Many want him dead—the Saudis, the Israelis, especially the Chinese—because of his role in trying to sell a global satellite spy system that would alter the world's balance of power; that was what got Joel imprisoned, and the CIA hopes that whoever kills him will clue them in to who may have access to the satellites. Joel is relocated to Bologna..."

John Grisham has since set a second novel in Italy.


Scorpia by Anthony Horowitz

From School Library Journal:  "Grade 7-10–Alex Rider, the 14-year-old spy and adventurer from Stormbreaker (2001), Point Blank (2002), Skeleton Key (2003), and Eagle Strike (2004, all Philomel), is back. While vacationing in Italy, he is recruited by the deadliest terrorist organization in the world, Scorpia..."

Brimstone by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

From School Library Journal:  "As FBI Special Agent Pendergast immerses himself in the investigation of an art critic's bizarre murder, he conjures up clues pointing to the Devil as the culprit. After several killings in the same ghastly manner, similar clues are found. Pendergast teams up with Police Officer Vincent D'Agosta, with whom he had worked in The Relic (St. Martin's, 1996), and they begin a lengthy, intense, and time-driven search for the murderer..."

Waking Raphael by Leslie Forbes

From Booklist:  "Forbes' latest departs from India, the setting of her previous literary thrillers--Bombay Ice (1998) and Fish, Blood and Bone (2001)--and moves to idyllic Urbino, Italy, birthplace of Renaissance painter Raphael. Deftly exploring connections between art, religion, and politics, Forbes layers her mystery with lush imagery and palpable human drama. When the Raphael painting that she is commissioned to work on is attacked..."

Day of Confession by Allan Folsom

From  "This massive thriller pits a scheming prince of the Church who believes he was once Alexander the Great against the Addison brothers--Harry, a Hollywood lawyer, and Danny, a Vatican priest. It seems that Danny had the bad luck to hear another cardinal's confession outlining a heinous plot to poison China's water supply in order to win the Vatican bankers a multi-billion-dollar contract to rebuild it..."

Suspense / Dramas set in Italy


Bus 64 - Roma by Umberto Bartolomeo 

This collection of 48 short stories is by far the best self-published book I have read to date.  The quality of writing is inspiring and on par with award-winning literary short-story collections.  The appeal for Italophiles is that the author brings Rome, Italy, and Italians to life for the reader, with literary skill and a deep understanding of the human heart. 

After just the first few paragraphs, I felt like I was in strong, capable, literary arms.  I love the conversational yet authoritative tone, and all the local lore, history, humor, erudition, psychological understanding, and heart that enrich the stories about people, not caricatures, and about daily life in Rome. 

Have you read The Canterbury Tales, or The Decameron?  This is a modern-day version written with Kurt Vonnegut-esque wit, with the characters mingling and showing their best and worst sides to our omniscient narrator, and through him, to us. 

With Chekovian psychological subtlety, the author helps us explore Rome's and the characters' sights, visitors, smells, frailties, passions, sins, rigid thoughts, biases, bowels, dreams, sins, goals and mortality.  He exposes to us the characters' various world views. 

There is much humor to lighten the tales that roam "...Rome's video-game streets..." but it is the author's way with words, his ability to turn a phrase, that is the greatest pleasure on this journey from the Vatican to the Stazione Termini. 

Characters, once introduced in their own stories, sometimes outside of the bus, return within stories about other passengers.  By the end of the collection, we have become part of a small community of players, acting and interacting on the author's mobile stage:  Bus 64. 

Some themes connect the stories, such as the recurring sense of time passing, eras changing, cultures clashing, personalities exerting their uniqueness to the frustration of other characters. 

If you enjoy reading quality, polished, moving, expert, psychologically astute writing, then Bus 64 - Roma is the book for you.  Take your time with the stories.  Embrace the diverse characters.  I promise you that by the end of the collection, you will feel that you have been a passenger on Bus 64, and that you have met and known several dozen Romans and visitors to Rome.  Travel virtually to the Caput Mundi

Please read my full and illustrated review at Italophile Book Reviews.



Stella Mia by Rosanna Chiofalo 

Stella Mia is a novel written as a memoirs.  All in the present tense, the past and the distant past events recounted in the book enjoy equal immediacy.  A grown U.S. American daughter tells her version of the events surrounding the departure of her Italian mother back to Italy.  When she discovers her mother's diary, the daughter and the reader discover the mother's version of events. 

Astoria, New York's, first, second and third generation Italian-Americans make up many of the characters in this story.  The other characters are Sicilian and Calabrian.  The events recounted occur in America and in Italy, in the near past and in the distant past.  This is so-called women's fiction, which I think is a rather insulting category name.  So I will describe this in more traditional terms:  a family drama. 

The mother's childhood in Italy is an excruciating story to read.  Physical and psychological abuse takes a toll on the woman not just in the past, but throughout her whole life.  It is a relief to read of the happiness she finds, here and there, in her life.  But the overall feeling is that she is doomed from the start to suffer.   

The story takes on the feel of a family saga when the story of the past takes over.  The visits to Astoria, New York, with the grown daughter are fleeting.  I think I enjoyed the last part of the story the best, when the grown daughter meets her aged mother in Sicily, and learns the rest of the story directly from her mother.  There is, of course, a heartwarming ending. 

I'm a bit older than the 42-year-old protagonist, Julia, but I still think she is a childish woman.  Her reactions to what she learns about her mother feel like the reactions of a child, not a grown woman.  Perhaps that is the case these days:  the perpetual adolescents of America?  I like to think that her experience in this book will make her a real grown woman. 

There are recipes at the end of the book, and a Question & Answer section with the author.  Reading clubs are provided questions to accompany Stella Mia.  The reader is told about the author's other books, and we learn that some of the characters in Stella Mia appear in the other books. 

Please visit my full and illustrated review at Italophile Book Reviews.

The author has three books out that may interest Italophiles.




Tempesta's Dream by Vincent B. "Chip" LoCoco 

The Tempesta of the title is Giovanni Tempesta, a twenty-five-year-old Italian man living in 1979 in Milan, Italy.  Giovanni dreams of becoming a world-class opera tenor, but he earns a living as a clerk by day, and an opera-café singer by night. 

The Prologue explains how Giovanni came to discover opera:  through his father, a consummate romantic and opera aficionado.  Franco Tempesta explains to his young son how opera is romance and raw emotion put to poetry and music.  Opera also touches how the man teaches his son about love. 

Without realizing it, Franco rears his son to be something of a throwback to an earlier idea of male-female relations.  That formal, respectful attitude to women, love, and relationships was out of place even in 1979.   

Giovanni has a sweetness and intensity about him, so we can almost forgive his following his love-at-first-sight woman home.  Giovanni is, as the author says:  "...a passionate romantic living in a very unromantic world."  And when Giovanni serenades the woman:  "He was a throwback to a lady's old romantic notion of how a man should act." 

Falling in love pushes Giovanni to pursue his dream with more conviction.  With ups and downs, lessons and sudden lesions, successes and failures, we follow Giovanni's progress to his ultimate success.  The satisfying, joyous ending has a truly operatic feel to it, musically, situationally and emotionally.  It is a big-opera finish. 

A few years back there was a novel written for young adults that had a father teaching his daughter about the history of philosophy.  Many adults read the book for the easy-to-grasp explanations.  Tempesta's Dream has the same feel to it, but for a history of opera.  The book's coyness about sex makes it a suitable book for both adults and young-adults.  The opera history and entertaining anecdotes that Giovanni's teacher, Alfredo, shares with his eager student make learning easy for the reader, too. 

The book is attractively presented, well-edited, and offered in various formats, including an audio book.  The omniscient narrative prose is not always the smoothest it could be, and the dialog can be stilted at times, but the directness of the prose suits direct and single-minded Giovanni Tempesta, and in the end, this is Giovanni's story.   

The author brings opera to life on the page, which he achieves through the use of the libretto texts, and rich descriptions of the music and of the emotions the music creates.   

True to the opera it honors, the book is full of strong emotions, heart, tears, love, ambition, friendship and an underlying decency.  I enjoyed it and it had me turning to my opera recordings, which is always a good thing! 

Please read my full and illustrated review at Italophile Book Reviews.



Botticelli's Bastard by Stephen Maitland-Lewis 

The novel Botticelli's Bastard is hard to categorize.  It is part farce, historical novel, paranormal novel, love story, mystery, and drama.  All the parts somehow come together to create a satisfying whole.  The whole is the story of Giovanni Fabrizzi, an Anglo-Italian art restorer living in London, who inherits a talking Italian Renaissance portrait painting.  What the man in the painting has to tell Giovanni is often disturbing. 

The changes that the painting makes in Giovanni's life are, at first, mainly comic, with a fun jaunt through history.  But halfway through the book, the story takes a decidedly darker turn, leading to a bittersweet but satisfying ending. 

Wealthy Giovanni is not the most sympathetic of characters.  But the life of a first generation Anglo-Italian in London was enough to keep me reading (it was enough for me to request a review-copy).  True to his cultural upbringing, Giovanni seeks out human contact and a sense of community, as well as treats from Italy, like good food, coffee and gossipy news. 

Most of the humor in the story comes from the interaction between Giovanni and the man in the painting, a painting Giovanni inherited from his father.  The family connection is key to the story, and if you want to really enjoy the story, I would suggest you avoid reading the official book description, since it contains many spoilers. 

The author's prose is straight-forward, clear and a pleasure to read.  The book is well-edited (except for the de' Medici error!).  The narration is third-person limited, letting us into Giovanni's head.  Botticelli's Bastard is an enjoyable mystery about a amateur detective who, with the help of the supernatural, discovers some dark secrets about his own family. 

Please read my full and illustrated review at Italophile Book Reviews.



Mister Gregory by Sveva Casati Modignani

Mister Gregory is translated from the Italian.  It is a fictional biography of a man, from conception to his eighty-fifth year.  His life story is not told chronologically, but shifting through time, sometimes introducing us to people in his late in his life, and much later explaining later how they came to be in his life. 

By the end of the book, the rich details create the impression that the man actually lives, and that we might even know him.  The graceful prose reminds me of Alberto Moravia's spare, simple prose that reads almost like poetry.  The narrator knows all, and shares enough of Mr. Gregory's life with us, so we know the man, in the end.

The man has is mother's beauty and aristocratic manner.  But he is also in love with his mother.  His possessive, jealous love for his mother stops him ever having a healthy love affair with a woman.  He flits from one attachment to another, and only very late in life does he come to terms with this.

It is Mr. Gregory's view of women, gained through his view of his mother, that lets him see things many other Italian men do not see, such as their limited roles and the abuse they suffer not just in body, but in spirit, too.  Very late in life he comes to understand how his mother escaped that fate.

While well-written and richly imagined, I never really connected with the main character, perhaps because I am not a man.  I suspect that I am not the target audience for this book.  With all the details of Mr. Gregory's major female conquests included in the story, some quite suggestive, I think men might find the story more interesting than I did.

Please read my full and illustrated review at Italophile Book Reviews.

Split Symmetry by Kirsten Arcadio

Thriller, adventure, a bit of romance and lots of science with a bit of fantasy thrown in for fun, makes Split Symmetry an entertaining read.

The author moves us between the perspectives of a small group of characters to tell the story, which takes place all in one day.  The story follows hikers on the Gran Sasso peak in Italy, and scientists under the mountain in the National Laboratories.  The Italian scientists are hoping for a ground-breaking discovery that day, having to do with fluctuations in time.   

The author's prose is very descriptive, and explains not just the actions and events, but much more.  The descriptions are very cinematic, bringing to the mind's eye images of the mountain, the quickly changing weather, the glimpses of climbers, the landslides.  The adventure is greater than a mountain-climbing adventure, which is exciting in its own right.  There are the earthquakes, the odd weather patterns, and the ripples in time for the climbers to deal with. 

The author calls her book "a metaphysical thriller", which is a good description, but I call the book an "adventure".  Even if you took away all the sci-fi and paranormal elements, the adventure story would still make a very entertaining book.  It is well-written and well-edited, with a striking cover.  Indie publishing at its best! 

If you enjoy programs like The Twilight Zone, Lost, X-Files, and Stephen King novels, you should enjoy this novel.  It is moody, atmospheric, and full of scary situations and trippy science such as "the wilder possibilities of quantum mechanics".  It is a thrilling adventure with science and fiction combined expertly to create a cinematic mind-bender.  I enjoyed it! 

Please read my full, illustrated review at Italophile Book Reviews.


Warburg in Rome by James Carroll

Warburg in Rome is a historical novel that presents a litany of evil, shame and suffering:  the evil of sadism fueled by greed, hatred and lust; the shame of those who could have acted against the evil sooner and more forcefully; and the suffering of pretty much everyone.  If you are looking for a cheery read, do not look here.  If you are looking for the details of some of the history of WWII and post-WWII coming to life, at least a bit, Warburg in Rome is a book that can offer you that. 

At the beginning of the book, David Warburg, the main protagonist of Warburg in Rome, is given the War Refugee Board's posting abroad, in Rome, Italy.  Much of the early part of the book consists of flashback accounts of the events that precede the liberation of Rome.  The post liberation period in Rome is where most of the book's story takes place.  The flashback sequences continue throughout the book. 

Part One of Warburg in Rome describes Rome in the immediate aftermath of its liberation, and we are given an idea of the enormous scale of the relief effort needed to feed, house and clothe the people left in war-ravaged Rome, Italy, only one of the many European cities that had to cope with post war refugees.   

Part Two of Warburg in Rome deals with the period after the Unconditional Surrender of Nazi Germany.  Warburg remains in Rome, despite the War Refugee Board being shut down.  He works to help Jews find refuge away from the societies that had turned on them, away from the camps where they had been sent to die. 

While advertised as a "thriller", the book does not move quickly enough, for me, to be really thrilling.  The historical subjects are all in the history books, especially the more recent history books, so the outcomes are not in question, making the story intrinsically un-thrilling.   

Warburg in Rome is a historical novel; there is no doubt about that.  The history is richly detailed and broadly researched, letting us inside the U.S. government, the various militaries, the Vatican, the various resistance movements, and the multiple relief efforts. 

The characters are interesting but I never connected with them, probably because my life is so different from their lives.  I could admire them and despise them, but caring for any one of them was difficult.  Most of the characters are so damaged that they barely care for themselves. 

I found myself admiring those few characters who had been battered into pulp by their war experiences, but who still found the ability, or gift, to care enough to try to end the suffering of others.  The author makes it very clear that those persons' helping of others provides the only salve that can begin the healing of the wounds their souls have suffered.  But even some of those characters' compassion succumbs under the relentless evil to which they are subjected or to which they see others subjected. 

Please read my full review at Italophile Book Reviews.

Paradise of the Devils by Franco di Mare

Paradise of the Devils is a translation from Italian of the novel Il paradiso dei diavoli, about life in Naples, Italy.  The book begins with a Camorra hit-man who turns out to be the book's protagonist.  The author uses Homer's technique of pausing the action to recount a character's history, then clicking "play" again to continue a scene, so prepare yourself for a poetic journey through this well-written book. 

We meet plenty of other characters in the book, including a psychopathic killer, a middle-school teacher who lives with endless disappointments, a gang leader, a mother and her dreams for wealth through her twelve-year-old daughter, that daughter grown up and become a gangster's moll, a reporter.  

I must say that the book, that I received as a review copy, feels less like a novel and more like a collection of short stories.  Some chapters could stand on their own, just fine, in a literary magazine.  Together, however, the stories take the shape of the story of a guilt-wracked, damaged young man, who becomes twisted by the lack of morals around him, and the easy proximity of everyone in Naples to crime. 

All the way through the book there are ruminations on lots of interesting things, but mostly on Naples and her people.  We learn about privileged children through the eyes of their poorly paid, demoralized teacher.  We learn a lot about Neapolitans.  We learn about Naples. 

Sometimes the inclusion of the characters' trips through Naples read like a car's navigation system, but they do add local flavor to the story.  There is lots of local flavor in this story, with detailed digressions about neighborhoods and local gangs and famous characters. 

The author skillfully moves his characters back and forth in time, revealing things about them at his own speed, and for his own reasons.  You just have to hang on and go for the ride.  It is an interesting ride, full of insights into human nature, and especially insights into the complex, damaged Naples and her Neapolitans. 

Please visit my Italophile Book Reviews site for the full, illustrated review.


Bringing It All Back Home by Nicola Lagioia

Bringing It All Back Home (the name of a famous album by Bob Dylan) is a translation from the original Italian of the award-winning novel Riportando tutto a casa.  It is a coming-of-age story that ends in an "abyss of regret and sleepless nights" from which the narrator has yet to escape, in the words of the narrator himself. 

The changes that took place in Italy during the 1980s are portrayed through the adult intellect of a man looking back critically and sardonically at his and his country's Regan-era boom years.  The narrator comes to recognize the huge socio-economic and moral divide that exists between his generation and his parents' generation, and the marked moral lapses they both share. 

Being the '80s, and being about teenagers, three in particular, there are lots of pop-culture references and song lyrics to set the scenes, and to pad out the minimal plot.  The young adults' relationships with their parents are the main points of the book, along with the relationships of the young people with each other, and with the world at large. 

The author is clearly well-read and well-studied, and he possesses a literary fluency, dotted with rich, associative, poetic passages.  There are times when the verbosity tends to excess and showiness, and there are times when the line between art and vulgarity is crossed.  The translation is excellent, as is the editing.  Often the chapters left a nasty taste in my mouth, as if the author's and the narrator's cynicism was contagious.  The details of the novel suggest it is partially autobiographical. 

I would imagine the appeal of the book would be mainly to people who lived through the times depicted, who might want a nostalgic look back through eyes that have become as wise as their own, or wiser.  All the major historical and social events are mentioned, and '80s fashion is described throughout. 

As a non-Italian, but one who lived in Italy during this period, the appeal is more of curiosity and as a means of seeing Italy through the eyes of an extremely expressive local.  If you are a non-Italian, the appeal might be to see your 1980s from a different angle, from the perspective that comes from life in Bari, Apulia. 

Please visit my Italophile Book Reviews site for the full, illustrated review.



Gifts for Ugo by Joseph C. Sciarillo 

Gifts for Ugo is a historical novel set in a fictional town in southern Italy, in the poorest village of the poorest region of struggling Italy, Basilicata, circa 1908.  This richly imagined, soulful story is told in a direct, natural style that reminds me of the late Morris L. West's beautiful prose in his novel The Shoes of the Fisherman, and even more so in his novel The Devil's Advocate.  As with those novels, a reader needs a quiet mind and quiet surroundings to fully immerse oneself in the world the writer recreates. 

Like West, the author of Gifts for Ugo has a talent for creating characters that feel real, such as the priest of Fignola, the hill-town where Pastor Ugo Sacco has served for twenty-two years.  Father Ugo is a bitter, angry, frustrated man.  His powerful ambitions were thwarted early in life, and his oversized ego was battered and bruised.  This has made the man difficult to live with, let alone confess to, and submit to his sermons and benedictions. 

But things only start to change when a priest is sent to assist Father Sacco:  Padre Colio.  The diminutive priest is a wise, deeply spiritual, compassionate man.  His example brings about a gradual change in Father Ugo Sacco, creating many poignant moments in this story of pastoral life in a dusty, poor village.   

The author shows a deep psychological understanding of his characters.  In fact, I can easily state that the novel is a spiritual drama combined with character studies of a complex flawed man, and of a complex saintly man.  The interactions of the two men, and their work with the villagers, is rich with poignancy, provoking tears at times from this reader. 

Throughout the novel, the author treats us to lovely, poetical turns of phrase that seem to come straight from the mouths of the hill-people.  The book has just undergone a very professional and thorough edit, so it is clean of any typos or errors.  The only thing that I think would improve the book is a new cover design. 

I cannot praise Gifts for Ugo highly enough.  Perhaps if I tell you that I have advised the author to enter the book into competition for The Tuscany Prize, a prize awarded to outstanding Catholic-themed novels, you will understand how highly I think of Gifts of Ugo?  Well, I have encouraged the author to do that, and I wish him success! 

Read my full review at Italophile Book Reviews.


The Confessions of Frances Godwin by Robert Hellenga

Frances Godwin, a fictional character, narrates her confessions, written late in life, part memoir, part mea culpa.  She spends sections of her life in Italy's Florence, Rome, and Verona, and these times have a great impact on her psyche.  Francis spends much of her life immersed in the Latin and Italian languages.  These are the reasons I requested a review copy of this book. 

The narrative style of the book is first person, ruminative, almost stream-of-consciousness.  The narration is rich with detail about the place and time described.   

The text is peppered with Latin and Italian words, two languages Francis speaks well.  She is a Latin teacher, and she learned Italian in school and from traveling in Italy.  When Francis uses Latin or Italian words and phrases, she always provides a translation. 

We get hints of surprises to come, along the way, then the book takes a different turn after the halfway point.  I found Francis not always convincing as a real person.  Perhaps because she is so different from me.  And she has a love of detail but a lack of character depth, which she acknowledges late in the book. 

This is a sad book, at least in my opinion.  I did not find it particularly funny, despite what the publisher's blurb says.  The rambling, first-person narration lost its charm for me at a certain point, and the abundance of un-necessary detail became distracting. 

Religion is a key element in the book.  The protagonist veers away from her religion, and then is drawn back to it by her own conscience that was well developed by her devout mother and a religious education.  In her confessions, Francis Godwin deals with life and death, and guilt and remorse.  She ruminates on love, and on the meaning of life.

Please read my full, illustrated review at my Italophile Book Review site.


Agostino by Alberto Moravia

This English translation by Michael F. Moore is of the 1945 classic, coming-of-age novella, Agostino, by the late Italian novelist Alberto Moravia. 

From the first lines of the book, we know that thirteen-year-old Agostino views his mother more like a girl-friend than a mother.  The author calls the son's affection for his mother what it is:  an infatuation. 

The story of his coming-of-age is told in clear, strong prose.  The details shared with the reader draw a picture of what is happening on the beach, and what is happening inside Agostino's young mind.

Moravia's writing skill is sure and firm and confident, without being pompous or flowery.  The dialogue of the beach boys and their actions are realistic and reminiscent of the book Lord of the Flies, which depicted the uncivilized, sadist life of children left on their own. 

There is always an uncomfortable, underlying, unspoken feeling of threat in the story.  One feels Agostino is just a step away from disaster, either with his mother, or with his new-found "friends".

Agostino is also full of self-loathing for his sexual feelings toward his mother, causing him to debase himself and to embrace deceit.  He is left longing to become a man, a euphemism for a sexual man, for sexual relations with women, hoping that will stop him from desiring his mother.   

Yes, Freud had a great influence on Moravia!  As did growing up an Italian male in a society where mothers often turned to their sons for emotional support, rather to their unfaithful, macho husbands. 

The translation is wonderful, communicating the force of Moravia's powerful, un-embellished prose.

Please see my full, illustrated review at my Italophile Book Reviews site.



Pasta, Poppy Fields and Pearls by Sophia Bar-Lev

In the Prologue to Pasta, Poppy Fields and Pearls we meet a quartet of women who have retired to Tuscany.  They are each very unique, yet their friendship seems strong.  They clearly have met only after arriving in Florence, Italy, because their backgrounds are too diverse to have brought them together before their retirement.  I immediately felt curiosity about this group of women, and I wanted to read more. 

It is refreshing to encounter a novel that boldly features not just one mature protagonist, but four mature protagonists!  We learn the history of the four women, through lovely vignettes from their lives.  As befits mature women, the story gives plenty of attention to the women's rich pasts, but we don't stay in the past.  We leap into the present, in Florence, and into the new events that occur to shake up their retirements.  There is lots of good food and drink in the book, and plenty of good cheer, and laughter and tears.  The story  progresses nicely to a heartwarming end. 

Read the full and illustrated review of this cozy-suspense novel at Italophile Book Reviews.

I have reviewed the second book in this life-drama saga series too!


Kindle and Paperback Editions


The Aspern Papers by Henry James

Just for fun, I'm including the Henry James novella set in decaying Venice.  It was made into a sanitized B/W film years back, but the original, dark story is wonderful.

From a Reader Review:

The Aspern Papers is a brilliant story that concentrates everything great about Henry James in one brisk addictive read. James had such a deep feeling for the ornate social niceties of his day that he was able to poke fun of them while still respecting their essential decency--he seemed to understand the greed and brutality they kept in check. Our unnamed narrator's quest to outfox a great poet's elderly mistress and lay ahold of her onetime lover's papers unfolds in a languid world of gondolas, decaying Venetian palazzos, hot evenings in overgrown gardens, and above all a comfortable leisure that allows the smallest social gestures to take on earth-shaking significance.

James had an uncanny ability to make that world come alive, bringing you into its subtleties and rites, while at the same time taking you behind the elegant façade to expose the aggression, cupidity, and naked power politics that lurk just beneath the impeccable manners. Our narrator wants the papers; the mistress wants money for her niece, and the niece ... well, order this book and read on to find out. You won't be disappointed--it's one of James's best.

Read the full review at Italophile Book Reviews.


The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith


One of the great crime novels of the 20th century, Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley is a blend of the narrative subtlety of Henry James and the self-reflexive irony of Vladimir Nabokov. Like the best modernist fiction, Ripley works on two levels. First, it is the story of a young man, Tom Ripley, whose nihilistic tendencies lead him on a deadly passage across Europe. On another level, the novel is a commentary on fictionmaking and techniques of narrative persuasion. Like Humbert Humbert, Tom Ripley seduces readers into empathizing with him even as his actions defy all moral standards.

The novel begins with a play on James's The Ambassadors. Tom Ripley is chosen by the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf to retrieve Greenleaf's son, Dickie, from his overlong sojourn in Italy. Dickie, it seems, is held captive both by the Mediterranean climate and the attractions of his female companion, but Mr. Greenleaf needs him back in New York to help with the family business. With an allowance and a new purpose, Tom leaves behind his dismal city apartment to begin his career as a return escort. But Tom, too, is captivated by Italy. He is also taken with the life and looks of Dickie Greenleaf. He insinuates himself into Dickie's world and soon finds that his passion for a lifestyle of wealth and sophistication transcends moral compunction. Tom will become Dickie Greenleaf--at all costs.

Unlike many modernist experiments, The Talented Mr. Ripley is eminently readable and is driven by a gripping chase narrative that chronicles each of Tom's calculated maneuvers of self-preservation. Highsmith was in peak form with this novel, and her ability to enter the mind of a sociopath and view the world through his disturbingly amoral eyes is a model that has spawned such latter-day serial killers as Hannibal Lecter.



The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr

This is a narrative non-fiction, which is a way of saying a novelized true story.  That's why I've put it here under the suspense novels.  It's about the search for a lost Caravaggio painting, and covers art history and restoration, as well as the eccentrics who search for lost paintings.

From The Economist: "Jonathan Harr has taken the story of the lost painting, and woven from it a deeply moving narrative about history, art and taste--and about the greed, envy, covetousness and professional jealousy of people who fall prey to obsession. It is as perfect a work of narrative nonfiction as you could ever hope to read."


Alibi by Joseph Kanon

From Booklist:  "Adam Miller, fresh from a stint as a war crimes investigator in Frankfurt, arrives in Vienna to visit his globe-trotting mother, who is holding tenuously to the remains of her fortune and embarking on an autumnal romance with a Venetian doctor whose wartime associations with the Nazis remain troubling if obscure. Miller begins a tumultuous romance with a Jewish woman whose own wartime experience has left her with deep psychic wounds. Soon enough the past can no longer remain hidden..."

Eminence by Morris West

From  "Eminence is a brisk thriller and simultaneously a very relevant examination of the byzantine Vatican City; but the ultimate pleasure of the book, as with the best of West's writings, derives from his complex and very human portrait of a modern man of the cloth."  If you don't know Morris West's work, try his classic:   The Shoes of the Fisherman, and The Devil's Advocate.





A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth

From Booklist:  "Those in the Italian village where he currently lives call him Sr. Farfalle--Mr. Butterfly--but he never reveals his real name. He has few friends, only business contacts. He is constantly on the move and always watching his back. He considers himself an artisan, not for the butterflies he paints as his cover but for the guns he creates for cunning assassins."  From Publishers Weekly:  "With first-rate characters and a gradual buildup of suspense, Booth constructs his most focused, tightly written novel to date, reminiscent of William Trevor's classic Felicia's Journey and the late Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels."

The Clowns of God by Morris West

From the Book Description:  "What would happen, if the members of the Roman Curia discovered that the Pope was about to publicly state that he had received a private revelation that the world was about to end? Pope Gregory XVII claims to have received a private revelation of the end of the world - an apocalypse coming not in some distant future but at any moment. Is he a madman, as his cardinals suspect, a mystic, or a fanatic grasping for an unholy power?"  Rave reader reviews for this book.


Crime Novels Set in Italy 

(See also my Mystery/Triller Series page)


All He Saw Was the Girl by Peter Leonard 

All He Saw Was the Girl is a deft crime thriller adventure story.  The fast-moving story is matched perfectly by the quickly-paced prose.  Deftly-drawn character sketches; exotic U.S. and foreign locales; hot, trashy women; hot tough guys and gangsters; action scenes galore; a twenty-something male protagonist who surprises people at every turn:  All He Saw Was the Girl is a book begging to be adapted to film. 

The story is set partially in Detroit, Michigan, but mainly it is set in and around Rome, Italy.  The sense of place in All He Saw Was the Girl is very strong.  

In the first few pages of All He Saw Was the Girl, the protagonist, William McCabe, has encounters with Italian police in the shape of the uniformed Carabinieri and a police Commissario. 

The first chapter is full of confidently written action scenes, with a keen eye for the visual story.  It has a hard-boiled delivery that makes this book's style punchy, as punchy as the protagonist gets more than once in the book, in both senses of the word. 

The narration is third-person limited, that switches from one character's perspective to another swiftly, as swiftly as needed by the fast-moving storyline.  I only noticed a few errors and typos.  The e-book edition has some missing line breaks that have the effect of running dialog from two characters together, causing some confusion. 

The author is a master of the dry-aside, and he is equally confident writing from the female and male perspectives. 

Read my full review at Italophile Book Reviews.



The Advocate:  A Sardinian Mystery by Marcello Fois

The incident occurred in Nuoro, Sardinia about a hundred years ago. A prosperous young farmer was shot dead in his olive grove, and his hired hand, a young man called Zenobi, was found guilty. In absentia - he had gone to ground already after being accused of theft and was now a bandit with a price on his head.

An open-and-shut case. Only the lawyer was willing to see whether the evidence for either charge stood up against the facts. Neither the courts nor the police wanted to reopen the case; the boy had effectively admitted his guilt by absconding. The lawyer's only recourse was to set up a trap of his own...



A Florentine Revenge by Christobel Kent

"Celia lives and works in Florence as a tour guide and thinks the forthcoming birthday celebrations for the young wife of wealthy businessman Lucas Marsh, will bring the usual mix of museums, galleries and exclusive shopping.

But, in the cold December weather a man's body is found in a disused swimming pool - a man who 15 years earlier was the chief suspect in an enquiry into the death of a six year old English girl.

As Celia's working weekend progresses, she finds she is by no means alone in remembering the gruesome details of that terrible murder, and she and her companions seem unwittingly to get embroiled further and further into the mysteries surrounding a 15 year old grievance, and a very current murder."


A Party in San Niccolo by Christobel Kent

"Set during one week in springtime Florence, A Party In San Niccolo follows the events leading up to the seventy-fifth birthday party for Frances Richardson, a much-loved English resident.

Around her, Frances' friends are gearing up for the party too:  Frank, a disenchanted journalist; Jane, who runs an Italian cookery school for rich Home Counties wives; her shady husband Niccolo; and Gina, a beleaguered mother-of-three who has come to Florence for a break.

Before the week is out love, death, family secrets and old memories will come to a head at Frances' party, with dramatic results."

From C.M.:  I have read this book.  It is well-written in a stately, traditional style.  It rotates point-of-view using a 3rd person limited perspective.  Most of the characters are British expatriates.  To be totally honest, I found I felt depressed after reading each chapter, so I had to take long breaks between them.  The cynicism is strong in the book and characters.  If you don't mind that, then you will have an interesting, leisurely read, that will transport you to the Oltr'arno area of Florence, Italy.

Read my review at Italophile Book Reviews.


Late Season by Christobel Kent

"The restored Tuscan farmhouse on the edge of an ancient wood is the perfect setting for a late September holiday. 

As Justine Elliott, her friends and their families from university gather to relax and unwind, she hopes it will be a chance to put the most tragic events of the previous year behind them all.

However, the apparently peaceful Italian countryside holds as many secrets as its visitors and, before the week is out, the past and the present will collide, with unexpected and dramatic results."

Read my review at Italophile Book Reviews.


The Summer House by Christobel Kent

"Rose Fell's friends think she's taking a big risk when she leaves the security of home and career to move to the beautiful but isolated village of Grosso, near Genoa.  But after a year of emotional turmoil Rose no longer has any ties back home, and she relishes the challenges of a new start.

Making a home, however, in the ravishing, haunted landscape of Italy's Riviera coast, turns out to be lonelier than Rose had anticipated.  And it is only when she is asked to write a profile of one of her reclusive neighbours, the once-glamorous film star Elvira Vitale, that Rose feels her new life is really beginning.

But when a young girl's body is found on the local beach, and the following day Elvira's hardworking migrant cleaner, Ania, goes missing, Rose finds herself embroiled in a murder investigation that threatens the idyll she has worked so hard to establish."



Kill Her Again by Albert A. Bell, Jr.


Corie Foster, a travel writer, and professor Michael Herrington meet while staying in a small town in Italy and observing an archaeological excavation. But someone is following Corie, who seems to bear a striking resemblance to the late wife of a wealthy Italian senator. When two women on the excavation team are murdered, Michael and Corie are certain that Corie is the real target.

As their investigation unfolds, it seems to hinge on what they can find out about the senator's wife. As they work together, Michael and Corie are drawn closer. But does Corie have her own reasons for coming to Italy? Is she who she appears to be?



Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy by Ann Cornelisen

From a reader's comments:  "One summer in Italy, two women find themselves being waved through roadblocks just because it never occurs to the police that women could be the criminals they seek. One says to the other, "any four women could rob the bank of Italy and get away with it while the police searched for four men." As this joke evolves first into an idea for a screenplay and then, unexpectedly, into the plans for a daring crime, a large cast of characters living in a Tuscan village move into action. Well-written, nicely paced, and full of laugh-out-loud passages."

The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins

The full title of this novella by Wilkie Collins, that is in the public domain, is The Haunted Hotel:  A Story of Modern Venice.  And it is because part of this novella is set in Venice circa 1870 that makes it so interesting to Italophiles.  The contemporary descriptions of the city make fascinating reading for anyone who has been to the city, or dreams of going there. 

The novella is an entertaining, and at times chilling, story of two women haunted by their past with a man who died under mysterious circumstances in a Venice palace.  One woman is the man’s widow.  The other woman is the man’s jilted fiancée.  The widow was described at the time of publication as a revelation to people, because never had they read of such evil in a woman before.  A woman as the antagonist was unique.

Various e-book versions of The Haunted Hotel are available for free from Project Gutenberg, the grand-daddy of free e-book sites.  Direct link to free e-books of The Haunted Hotel

If you prefer to read the original book, scanned, and made into an e-book, that is available for free from Internet Archive, to download or to read on-line. Direct link to free e-book of The Haunted Hotel

Read my full review at Italophile Book Reviews.


Direct link to free e-books of The Haunted Hotel


Direct link to free scanned e-book of The Haunted Hotel

Fire on Mount Maggiore by John Parras

From a Book Review:  "Based on events in the author's life while fighting forest fires in Italy, Fire On Mount Maggiore is a novel about a firefighter plagued with survivor's guilt after a terrible blaze slaughters five men in his brigade. Caught amid rumors and suspicions of flawed firefighting operations, corruption in the management of state lands, serial arson, and influence of the criminal underworld, he embarks upon an exploration into the conspiracy."


This Kindle book is by a site visitor: The Heat of Mezzogiorno by Adam John Clarke

It is not exactly a crime novel. It is more of a political novel with a generous helping of Sicilian food.  Click through to Amazon, where you can take a look at the first chapter.

Book Description:

Lit by the baking sun of Southern Italy and surrounded by a bleak landscape of charred cinders, on the rooftop of an unremarkable roof terrace, consumed by a fetish of gastronomic wonders, ‘The Heat of the Mezzogiorno’ is the fiercely political debut novel by Adam John Clarke.

Discover the story of two aged friends who come together one last time to embark on a marathon of piggish gluttony, intoxicated drinking and hearty debate. Friends in a former life, both have soared to dangerous heights in their chosen elite but they brandish their teeth from opposing ends of the political spectrum. This final meeting is the last chance. While the peasants inhabiting the local town of Poggiardo go about the banality of their daily lives, an epic trial that could ultimately change the course of history is in motion.

‘A gluttonous indulgence of Southern Italian culinary delights’

‘The banter of political philosophers said while gorging on the fruits of proletarian labour’

‘Idyllic landscapes inspired by the Old Testament’

The acclaimed debut novel by Adam John Clarke



An Extra Virgin Pressing Murder by Candida Martinelli

Candida has written a traditional country-house cozy-murder-mystery with lovely Tuscan sights, hunky Italian love interests, mysteries, laughs and tugs on the heartstrings. 

It is in the style of Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L. Sayers mystery novels, a light touch with little gore or violence, lots of suspect characters and a bit of romance.

Julie gladly leaves her retirement home to attend a protégée’s wedding in Tuscany. But when someone is murdered at her welcome party, and the chief suspect is the Italian fiancé, Julie finagles her way into working with the local Marshal to discover the truth.

The reader follows Julie along her not-always-smooth path to discover all she can about the possible suspects and motives for the murder. There is some danger for Julie, and for the others involved in the case. The resolution brings clarity and relief, as well as a new beginning for Julie, in Italy.

To read Part I (of 8 Parts) which is 6 Chapters (of 40 Chapters), visit the book's page on this website or at the book's website. for paperback (11.99$) and large-type paperback (14.99$) and mobi-Kindle (3.99$ in U.S.)

CreateSpace for paperback (9.99$ with code AHY2J7GU) and large-type paperback (12.99$ with code AHY2J7GU)


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Historical Novels set in Italy

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