The stifling summer heat dogs all the players in The Dead Season — A Mystery of Florence by Christobel Kent. Anyone who has ever visited Italy in July or August will recognize the smothering heat and the deserted, empty feeling. None of this is an impediment to murder, and The Dead Season‘s plot encompasses killings and all manner of fraud and thievery. Banks, real estate and superficially elegant villains figure heavily in this novel’s complicated crimes.
In addition to a wonderfully sordid atmosphere, The Dead Season offers private investigator Sandro Cellini, who was recently forced into retirement from the Florence police force. Sandro is no longer young, and he struggles in his new situation. He is no longer part of a professional team, and he is feeling the economic pinch. Fortunately, he has loyal and imaginative assistance from his wife, a former colleague still on the force and his hard-luck assistant. Sandro’s relationships with these people are a key element to this book. They are far more interesting than the usual sidekicks, and their own personal relationships and struggles enhance the book considerably.
The fine plot is founded on greed, old grudges and people desperately trying to keep up appearances. Solving the mystery requires an understanding of social and economic forces, as well as patient attention to details. The novel’s greatest strength comes from the characters’ perceptiveness and responses to each other. That, together with the overwhelming presence of a stifling, deserted Florence, makes for a great story. I look forward to reading more in this series and particularly hope that Roxana Delfino, an interesting supporting character, is brought into Sandro Cellini’s fold for future mysteries. She has the makings of a great detective!