I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I love how the author has made a holiday tradition of writing these Christmas-themed suspenses each year for a side character from one of her historical detective series. This time, the hero is Charles Latterly, brother to Hester Monk part of the William Monk series. This side story doesn’t have romance for Charles though I hope there is something for him in the future stories.
The holiday Christmas stories series have a series order, but the real connection isn’t within this series. The connection is to the other series by the author. This book’s character is connected to the William Monk series and can be read somewhere after the first few books. It functions well as a standalone, too.
Charles’ wife has just died and he is feeling adrift. He’s middle-aged and is taking stock of his life and isn’t pleased with what he perceives as a life devoid of success. So instead of spending a dreary Christmas at home, he takes a holiday trip to the Mediterranean isle of Stromboli. He is staying at a guest house up near the peak of the volcano so he can walk about to see the sites and explore the volcanic region.
On arrival, he is delighted with his host, a happy Italian man who loves to cook and make his guests feel welcome, and by a young, orphaned, Candace Finlay who takes to him as much as he takes to her.
But once he is settled in, Charles experiences the undercurrents caused by the other guests at the house. It all swirls around an antagonistic man who pokes at everyone and breaks up the peace.
Then things take a dire turn when the volcano decides to wake up and a murderer works as lava, rock, and ash rain down. Charles must worry about the safety of the group while knowing that one of them committed murder.
This one is a novella-length story so naturally its development is succinct. I loved the buildup and the climax, but the denouement felt somewhat abrupt. As to the buildup, the author does a good job of developing each character, establishing the setting and atmosphere, and leaving the reader with a ticklish mystery in which several characters could be the culprit.
Beyond these things, I enjoyed the companionship of Charles and the young Candace as he connects with her and wonders what would have been if he had children, particularly a girl as bright and unique as Candace.
This is not a bright holiday tale. It is deep, but there is sadness mixed in with the hope. The tone is bittersweet and a tad melancholy. I must have been in just the right mood because I was satisfied with the emotions the story drew out.
My only real niggle is that the revelation and subsequent ending felt rushed and abrupt. Yes, it leaves thing clear about who and much of the why, but skipped over the how and a more in depth why. I do hope there will be more Charles and Candace in the regular series.
So, again, I enjoyed the story of one of the side characters set at Christmas time with his own mystery to solve. The setting was fantastic and I felt like I took a little journey to southern Italy as a result. Fans of Victorian era historical mysteries should give this story and the larger William Monk series a try.
I received this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
Historical Fiction #41
This story is from the mid-Victorian period, but the holiday focus wasn’t on how the Victorians celebrate Christmas so much on the theme of a holiday abroad. I’ve never gone somewhere away from home or from travels to family for my Christmases, but there is a part of me that would like to try something like that at least once. Charles chose to go to the Italian island of Stromboli in the Mediterranean. It sounded just heavenly. Mild weather, gorgeous views, luscious food and a warm reception. An Italian holiday would definitely be a possibility. I thought I’d share a recipe for Stromboli sandwich (because that is the first thing that popped into my head when I saw the island’s name in the story). Food is generally on my mind and I love Stromboli sandwiches. LOL
So Stromboli…here you go Courtesy of The Spiffy Cook blog b/c I don’t have my own recipe for it. This is the one I did (mouthwatering smell that makes you want to scorch your tongue and eat it before it cools):
Stromboli Ingredients: 1/2 lb pizza dough 1/2 cup pizza sauce, plus more for dipping 1-1/2 cups grated Mozzarella cheese 6 thin slices hard salami 4 thin slices deli honey ham 1 egg, beaten Dried parsley (I chopped up fresh, much better) & Parmesan cheese (again, fresh shaved Parm is better)
I imagine the vegetarians can probably use a meat substitute or hey, try some eggplant and squash to do a veggie version.
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Line large rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
- Spread pizza dough out on baking sheet to be approximately 10×16. Spread pizza sauce over 2/3′s of the dough lengthwise, leaving a 3×16 rectangle of plain dough along one of the edges. Top sauce with half the grated cheese, salami and ham. Top with remaining cheese.
- Brush the plain strip of dough with the egg. Fold in the other sides about an inch and brush them with egg. Roll up like a jelly roll* lengthwise starting along the long edge of dough topped with all the fillings and ending with the plain strip of dough on the bottom of the roll.
- Brush the entire stromboli with egg and gently cut slats in the top of the dough every 1-2 inches. Sprinkle parsley and cheese over top and bake 8-10 minutes or until bubbly and golden. Remove from oven, cool 5 minutes and slice into pieces. Serve with more pizza sauce.
*This is where using parchment paper is really handy because you can pick it up to help roll the dough.