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Posted May 4, 2015
Mother, midwife and sleuth Serafina Florio is enlisted by her friend, madam Rosa, to find the killer of her prostitutes in 1860s Sicily. The killer marks their victims with the symbol of a brazen serpent, and as the death count begins to rise, Serafina is on the case, but will she succeed in finding the perpetrator of these heinous crimes?
This is an intriguing, well-crafted murder mystery with great characters who are portrayed with sympathy by the author. While the murders do not take a backseat in the story in terms of events, the novel largely showcases the characters' lives, giving depth and realism to the story, and providing it with great balance. There are touches of humor, which nicely arrive at unexpected moments in the narrative, and the author's description of 1860s Sicily is vivid, complementing the story to a large degree with its authenticity. An absorbing read, DEATH OF A SERPENT is a credit to the author, who brings it all together with elegance and humanity.
Posted November 15, 2012
I received a copy of this book for review through Reader Spoils.
Having never read any of the other Serafina Florio mysteries, I don't know if in one of the earlier books, more background is given. In this one, the writer just jumps on in to Serafina's life, including a summons from her close friend to view the scene of a murder at her place of business. Many, MANY people are introduced in the first few chapters - so many that I was very confused about pretty much anybody except Serafina and Rosa. Most baffling of all were the conversations Serafina had with Maddelina (?). I'm still not sure whether she's alive or dead.
It's never established how or why Serafina Florio is particularly qualified to solve a mystery, aside from the fact that she's willing to keep looking and is perfectly willing to nose into other people's lives. I didn't find the character of Serafina, or any of the characters, for that matter, especially appealing, nor was the mystery compelling.
I disliked the writing style, with its short, choppy sentences and weird frequently-backwards dialogue. Perhaps this type of dialogue is in keeping with that time period for Sicily, but it was pervasive and got annoying. Death of a Serpent was well-written, technically, thus the three stars. I found few grammar errors outside of dialogue (where I give it a pass, for the most part), and no spelling or homonym errors that I recall. In addition, because some local words and phrases were thrown in randomly, I learned some Italian in context (though truthfully, some of it, I wouldn't have known what the word meant except that I already knew a very similar word or phrase in Mexican).
Other people will enjoy (and obviously have enjoyed) the book, the dialogue, the syntax, the characters, the mystery. I didn't, but I can't really hold that against Ms. Anderson. The writing was good enough technically that I will probably look for other works by Ms. Anderson, but I doubt I'll read any more period pieces.
Posted July 15, 2012
No More Brothers - A Solid 4 Stars!
No More Brothers is a murder mystery with an unusual "detective". Serafina Floria is a midwife who lives in Sicily in the year 1867. The commissioner of the city has asked for her assistance in a few investigations, which she gladly accepts, because she is a widow, and with a houseful of children to support, she needs every penny that she can earn. Her life is not easy, but oh so interesting.
Serafina's character is very likeable. She has sneaky ways of getting clues before others less thorough get ahold of them. She sees clues that no one else notices. All of the characters have a lot of depth. The people related to Serafina are quite interesting. For example, her oldest son assists Serafina on this investigation, but also challenges her about things, including Serafina's motives on decisions that she makes. Other characters in the book are also well developed. One, in particular, is a love interest. He is a former lover that Serafina was involved with while she was studying to be a midwife. I was left wondering .....
There are all kinds of twists and turns in the story. The characters connect in surprising ways. The little town comes alive with Ms. Anderson's creative descriptions. She is a talented writer, and I believe she is well on her way to writing a popular series. No More Brothers is a solid 4 stars.
Posted July 13, 2012
With finely written prose rich in historical imagery, sound and other sense details of 1800s Sicily, Death of a Serpent was reminiscent of The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon for this reader.
Recently widowed Serafina is a determined sleuth, adept at solving other people’s problems, which sometimes causes her to neglect her own family issues. She is called on by her good friend Rosa, the successful owner of a high class brothel, to investigate the murders of several of her prostitutes. Why are the women being killed? Is it the local Don, a mysterious monk, or a former lover of Serafina? And how soon will the killers hands turn to Serafina and her family, especially as her estranged daughter may be within the killer’s sights?
The characters of Serafina, Rosa—the brothel owner, Scarpo—the brothels chief bodyguard and Inspector Colonna—the incompetent chief of police, are well realised and believable.
As the story reaches its climax, the two strands, that involving the investigation into the murders and Serafina’s struggle to reconcile with her daughter, are brought crashing together…
At times I would have liked the “pearls in the oyster of each scene” (1) to have been bigger and clearer, in other words, the beautiful atmosphere and setting of some scenes—the meat of the oyster—far outweighed the dramatic plot event that occurred (discoveries, decisions, responses, changes—the pearls), making it difficult to keep track of them (or maybe my memory is going). But that apart, this is a well written book with a likeable character in Serafina.
If you like fine writing with well researched historical details, then this book will be a feast for your senses.
1. Janet Burroway – Writing Fiction