Murder on the Vine (A Tuscan Mystery)
“Murder on the Vine is a delightful local color mystery that will earn its place on your bookshelf next to Donna Leon and Louise Penny . . .”
In the third installment of Camilla Trinchieri’s charming series set in Tuscany, retired New York homicide detective Nico Doyle is drawn into the search for Cesare Costanzi, an octogenarian bartender working at the Hotel Bella Vista.
Nico’s friend Salvatore Perillo, maresciallo of the carabinieri at Greve-in-Chianti, takes charge of the case along with his Venetian sidekick, Brigadiere Daniele Donato. The hotel manager, Laura Benati, is extremely upset by the disappearance of her longtime friend, but after Perillo interviews her, he’s left with more questions than answers.
When Cesare’s body turns up in the car trunk of a local man who could not possibly have had anything to do with the murder, Nico lends his expert assistance to Perillo and Daniele as they search for suspects, a solid motive, and helpful evidence to solve this puzzling and unexpected murder.
The author prefaces Murder on the Vine with a brief note regarding her characters. “They are part of the world I have stepped into,” she writes.
“They live in Gravigna, Greve, or other villages. They belong. So do the people who step in and out of the stories. . . . I let them in so that I can be part of this world that is slowly coming alive in my head. I want that world to come alive for you too.”
Readers who have already read her previous Tuscan mysteries Murder in Chianti (2020) and The Bitter Taste of Murder (2021) are prepared for what comes next, but if this is your first venture into Trinchieri’s Tuscany, you’re in for a special treat.
Nico is all that we could ask for in a protagonist. He’s thoughtful, self-conscious, and very capable. His relationship with OneWag, the street dog he adopted as a companion (whom everyone else in the world calls Rocco), provides constant amusement. His other relationship of note, the on-again-off-again involvement with artist Nelli Corsi, gives the story a romantic underpinning that lends a measure of suspense to Nico’s personal life.
Perillo and Daniele are an effective pairing as police detectives. The marasciallo is an old grouch with a soft side, while his brigadiere is diffident but very capable. At the same time, the author’s other secondary characters all strike interesting and engaging notes as they weave in and out of the storyline.
It should hardly be necessary to mention the setting. It’s impossible to read this novel and not see the incredible beauty of the countryside as the Venetian transplant Daniele sees it when he takes every available moment to stop by a window and gaze out at the landscape:
“The vaulted street, laid down next to a rough fifteenth-century stone wall, was dark until they reached the first large window cut into the stone. Daniele, always uplifted by beautiful views, stopped to look down at the spread of trees broken here and there by olive groves and vineyards. . . . He would never get tired of beauty.”
It’s also impossible not to smell and taste the food. Ah, the food. Roasted vegetables and grilled scamorza. Picci all’aglione with eggplant involtini. Good heavens. Don’t read this book on an empty stomach or you’ll end up in the kitchen fixing a “sandwich of marinated eggplant between two slices of thick country bread” while trying to turn the pages with a free pinkie.
At the end of the day, Trinchieri’s Tuscan mysteries can best be described as hybrids, an effective combination of cozy and procedural. She earns comparisons to Donna Leon and her Venetian procedurals with their strong reliance on setting and family subplots, as well as to Louise Penny and her Chief Inspector Gamache procedurals with their heavy dose of eccentric secondary characters inhabiting the village of Three Pines.
While the plotting will need more work next time out, including a more satisfying solution, Murder on the Vine is a delightful local color mystery that will earn its place on your bookshelf next to Leon, Penny, and others who are making this a crime fiction sub-genre worth keeping an eye on.