James Sturz, Author . Walker $24.95 (300p) ISBN 978-0-8027-3372-6

An American anthropologist working in southern Italy finds his team's efforts plagued by a series of macabre murders in Sturz's debut, a vividly imagined, erotically charged thriller set in the tiny town of Mancanzano. The anonymous narrator and his three colleagues are called in after two teenagers are found dead in a series of caves known as the sassi, just outside the village. Sexual evidence at the crime scene adds a steamy, sensational angle to the murders, and the suspense is heightened when the anthropologists find four more bodies in another cave, which is adorned with a series of violent, carnal frescoes. The team's restoration work is suspended as the bumbling, corrupt local police move in to investigate; their lack of progress becomes especially noticeable when someone begins killing local dogs and depositing their bodies around town and in the caves. Faced with the prospect of some downtime, the team members begin to succumb to their own carnal urges, and the narrator finds himself embroiled in a dangerous affair with a gorgeous 19-year-old named Filippa, who wants him to impregnate her. The narrator gives in, even though he has a pregnant girlfriend back in New York, and things get worse when he learns of Filippa's role in the crime. Sturz's character manipulation is too blatant to make this novel effective as a murder mystery, but his use of the village's geography and history is masterful as he creates a sense of erotic tension amid the carnage. (Apr. 30)

Forecast:This novel was well received when it was released in the U.K. last year. That, along with Sturz's extensive journalistic background—including Vanity Fair and the New York Times—will help get sales moving.

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
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