cover image The Five-Forty-Five to Cannes

The Five-Forty-Five to Cannes

Tess Uriza Holthe, . . Crown, $23.95 (274pp) ISBN 978-0-307-35185-2

Great title and rich Mediterranean backdrop aside, this collection of linked stories doesn't quite fulfill the promise of its deft architecture and impressive range. A reader can't help wishing that more of the characters in these stories had the appeal of the Bruiser, an introspective Scottish strong-arm hired to find an AWOL debtor and a kidnapped boy while on vacation in Italy. Or the title characters in the García Márquez–esque "The Three Widows of Signor Alberto Moretti," whose daily hen parties in front of the Hotel Rapallo in Rapallo, Italy, reveal a shared disdain and love for one another that's so convoluted even the three widows can't sort it out. Other stories resonate, especially "The Ferry Driver of Portofino," in which an ex-con adopts an abused young boy, and "Homecoming," which sees the widow of a man killed early in the collection traveling to France aboard the same train her husband rode on the day he died: the 5:45. At times, Holthe's eagerness to link her stories leaves some encounters feeling forced. Though this collection doesn't eclipse Holthe's debut, When the Elephants Dance (2002), it provides a trove of pleasures and will have fans looking forward to the next. (May)