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The Faces of Angels by Lucretia Grindle

The Faces of Angels” was first published in the U.K. in 2006.  It was just republished in the U.S. in the Felony & Mayhem Mystery series and it is a literary achievement that is just oozing with the atmosphere of Florence, Italy.  The second in Grindle’s mystery series set in Florence has just received the prestigious “Gold Dagger” award in the U.K.

Mary Warren first encounters Florence as a newlywed two years before the main events of the book take place.  Her husband, Ty, was in a teacher exchange program and Mary came along to Florence essentially to honeymoon.  In Florence she met a crime reporter for the local press who was married and they fell in love.  Mary was struggling with what to do about the conflict of being married to someone she liked but did not love and being forbidden by social and religious mores to chuck it all in order to be with this married man.  As Mary and Ty were visiting the Boboli Gardens in Florence Mary was attacked and Ty was killed rescuing her.  The killer was found a few weeks later and was himself killed in an vehicle accident on his way to prison.

Mary goes back to Philadelphia for a couple of years, but finds herself longing for Florence and her lover, Pierangelo, who had since become separated from his wife.  Mary returns to Florence as an adult art student and takes up residence with another American woman, Billy Kalczeska.  While enjoying the atmosphere and the art that permeates Florence, Mary also finds herself fascinated with the details of several murders of women that took place both before and after the attack that cost Ty his life.  She secretly collects pictures of the murder victims and stories that Piero and others have written about these murders and eventually she resolves to solve them once it becomes clear that either her attacker did not die in a fiery accident, or there is a copycat killer lurking in Florence.

The plot is complex and very suspenseful.  It is also beautifully written.  The descriptions are vivid and assault all of the senses.  Each main character is fully developed so that the reader not only has a physical description of many of the characters, but also gets a psychological perspective on what makes many of them tick.

In a sense Florence itself becomes a character.  Consider these two paragraphs from the book where Mary meets the lover of one of the women who was murdered.  These paragraphs are important to defining the meaning behind the title of the book. In them the lover, Gabriel, admits that he sees his dead lover in the streets of Florence all the time:

“‘Sometimes I think there’s a whole other Florence.  A city of the dead that no one ever leaves….Perhaps they’re lonely…and they need to look at us. Or perhaps we’re the ones who are lonely, and we need to look at them.  Maybe that’s why we paint them over and over again.’

He laughs at the look on my face. ‘Haven’t you noticed?’ he asks.  The professors and art historians analyse it and write about it and call it “The Florentine School”, but really all it is is what we see.  Every painting in Florence, centuries of them, they’re nothing but our ghosts. Ghosts, and the faces of angels.'”

Mary has her own guardian angel watching out for her.

The book cover says that fans of Ian McEwan and Daphne du Maurier will like this book.  I would add to that the fans of Dan Brown’s “Demons and Angels” and “DaVinci Code” for those who will particularly like Grindle’s “The Faces of Angels.”  There is an Opus Dei connection in this book, as in Brown’s works.

I can’t wait to read the second in this series!

Liz Nichols

 

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