The reality-distorting fever that afflicts the i-dotting, t-crossing Lucy Stark--a plainish Brooklyn woman who finds herself embroiled in the creepy intrigues of the aristocratic Cini family--envelops her mere days after she arrives in northern Italy, and barely breaks before this upmarket gothic novel comes to closure. Lucy's delirium makes her likely to misinterpret all the things that go bump in the night, and yet when the lights come on at the novel's end, nearly all the ghouls shrink into shadows. In Tuscany on rather strange business--her employer, a popular and formulaic fiction writer named DV, has drunkenly met his death by falling down a well on the Cini property--Lucy becomes suspicious of the Cinis' byzantine ways and their dodginess on the subject of the American painter Catherine Bultman, whom Lucy assumed had been living as DV's lover in the house he rented on the Cini grounds. With her temperature steadily rising, Lucy rifles through DV's belongings and finds an amorous letter to Catherine, written in Italian and signed Antonio. Thinking she has uncovered a valuable clue--Antonio is the name of the seedy scion of the Cini line--Lucy begins to make more pointed inquiries about Catherine's whereabouts and the circumstances of her departure. She is waylaid in her investigation by her illness, however, and by the equally damaging and consuming affair she begins with the married Roman hunk named Massimo who nurses her back to health. Besides being a born-again passionate, Lucy is an art enthusiast; Martin's knowledge of iconography and hagiography adds an intellectual dimension to the romantic plot. Martin also describes the food in Tuscany and Rome luxuriously--if sometimes with a hungry street urchin's obsessive care. With a few ghosts, several acts of love and numerous jibes at self-indulgent writers of the DV school, the sophisticated romantic adventure is rendered with stylish flair. Martin controls the narrative momentum smoothly and recounts her tale with occasional wryness and engaging enthusiasm. 50,000 first printing. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999 Release date: 06/01/1999 Genre: Fiction
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