cover image Cabaret: A Roman Riddle

Cabaret: A Roman Riddle

Lily Prior, . . Ecco, $24.95 (266pp) ISBN 978-0-06-077257-4

A sexually frustrated Italian mortician tries to solve the riddle of her husband's disappearance in this drolly comic oddity. Prior (Ardor ) sets the stage for an intriguing mystery when Freda, 26, discovers her apartment ransacked and both her beloved parrot and despised husband missing. The hunky investigating detective awakens Freda's buried passions, but this and any further developments in the case are put on hold for the next 100-odd pages as Freda recounts what led her to her present state. The garish scenery is worth the plot detour. From her deathbed, Freda's mother prophesied her daughter's marriage to a ventriloquist, and thus when Freda meets ventriloquist Alberto on a cruise, she accepts him as her destiny (even though he's repulsive, with hands like "slabs of hot lard smeared on my skin"). In the present, Freda really wants to find her parrot, while a talking hamster tries to take its place, and a disastrous fire at a cabaret where Alberto used to perform leaves the owner with the bell of a tuba permanently stuck on his head. Prior plants many seeds of mystery that never actually sprout—like what really happened to Alberto, for instance—but light laughs and plenty of absurdity make for a diverting read. (July)