The Summer House tells the story of Rose Fell, a recently divorced journalist who decides to start a new life in the village of Grosso, near Genoa. After a year in the village, Rose is still trying to find her place and is intrigued when her boss asks her to get an interview with a former model and film star, Elvira Vitale, who has a villa nearby.
Elvira Vitale has made some terrible choices but none more so than her third husband, Jack, who appears to be controlling her through a combination of drugs and champagne. As the truth begins to dawn on Elvira, she becomes increasingly suspicious of Jack’s motives and is determined to break free. However, she may be in more danger than she ever realised when Jack becomes prime suspect after the body of a young woman is found on a beach in a nearby town.
The investigation becomes increasingly more sinister when Elvira’s maid, a Romanian immigrant called Ania, suddenly disappears. As the danger intensifies, Elvira, Rose and Ania have to dig deep to find their inner strengths and their paths suddenly converge in ways they never could have imagined.
The mystery plot within The Summer House is a gentle one with no graphic descriptions of murder so it may not appeal to crime fans who like a side helping of gore with their main crime dish. Nevertheless, the characterisation makes this a worthwhile read as we meet so many diverse characters in the village and the nearby towns. Those not born in the village are treated as outsiders even if they have been there for a number of years and Grosso has more than its fair share of eccentric characters.
What intrigued me most about this book is that we are very far from the usual tourist spots so it portrays a very different kind of Italy as it centres around people trying to scrape a living in a village that is essentially dying. The descriptions of the landscape are hauntingly beautiful and really contribute to the atmosphere of the novel. Kent is very good at writing about the everyday lives of these characters and how an unexpected event, like a murder, affects these same people. The reactions vary from abject horror to a determined effort to stay out of the business of perceived foreigners.
It’s probably obvious how much I love reading crime novels and Christobel Kent has a series of novels based on a policeman turned private detective, Sandro Cellini, which I may check out at some point.