What a treat.

2 Philip Gwynne Jones novels in less than a week.

No sooner had I finished “The Venetian Masquerade” than I picked up “Venetian Gothic” and thanks to a judiciously timed day of filthy, cold, freezing weather here in Delhi, where I live, plus a few accompanying aches and pains, I took the day off, curled up with a hot water bottle, and swapped the grey skies of Delhi in January for the grey skies of Venice in November.

This story is every bit as good as its four predecessors and is possibly the darkest and spookiest of them all, involving as it does deserted cemeteries on tiny islands far out in the Venice lagoon.

It is All Soul’s Day, and Nathan Sutherland, the Honorary British Consul in Venice, is with the English Anglican padre at the cemetery on San Michele island when an empty coffin is unearthed. From this traumatic start, Nathan is led ever deeper into a 40 year old investigation involving one of the city’s noble families. The deceased child who was supposed to be in the coffin had a British father, and Nathan is called upon to try and track down old consulate records.

Then a decidedly pushy, not very-likeable English journalist comes to the city, questioning everyone whom Nathan is in touch with during his investigation into the empty coffin.

Add a decidedly unlikeable, ill-tempered British backpacker who asks for help after falling victim to a scam and is later found drowned. And he has been researching old cemeteries.

With these three threads, Mr. Gwynne Jones weaves a very fine thriller indeed, with a great twist at the end, which I certainly didn’t see coming.

Mr. Gwynne Jones clearly knows and loves Venice, and as in his previous books, the author brings the city to vibrant life with its food and cafes, its bars and vaporettos, the canals and high tides and the ever-present glorious architecture. Mr. Gwynne Jones also highlights the sad dilemma of Venice – the heart of the city is being eviscerated, as locals are driven out by unaffordable rents, and shops now cater for tourists rather than residents. There is real joy at the end of the novel when Nathan’s great mate Dario moves back to the city from the suburbs and the dwindling pollution is promptly increased by three.

It is always a delight to spend time with Nathan’s unflappable partner Fede – this a couple who loves to eat and drink (all those cocktails!) and the descriptions of cooking are all a delicious part of the narrative fabric. Oh, and please don’t forget their Garfield-esque cat Gramsci. The English Padre, Michael Rayner, is a delight – swearing away at the terrible electricity connection in his damp church – but keeping a keen, friendly eye on his flock.

As it got darker and colder here in Delhi, I was one in spirit with Nathan Sunderland who reluctantly has to head out in the driving rain, with the wind whipping off the lagoon, as he tries to sort out this latest batch of mysterious cases involving Brits.

Great read.

Can’t wait for the next book in the series which, fingers crossed, is due out this spring.


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