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by Donato Carrisi and Harold Curtis, trans.
Mulholland, November 2013
426 pages
ISBN: 0316246794

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

How much the reader will enjoy this mystery depends on large part to the extent he or she enjoys complexity. There are several storylines within the basic structure of this novel, all of which intertwine at the end to make a complete whole. However, in the meantime, it can be a challenge to keep track of all the events that occur within THE LOST GIRLS OF ROME.

The story begins with at least three main stories: the disappearance of a young female architectural student, the death of a forensic photographer's husband, and the investigation of a serial murderer, whose apparent heart attack led to the discovery of his crimes against several young women in Rome.

The leading character, Sandra Vega (a forensic analyst with the Milan police) gets drawn into the larger story when she receives a call about the death of her husband, a photo-journalist who apparently died accidentally. The message is from an Interpol agent and colleague of her spouse who wants to examine her husband's luggage, as he suspects the death was a murder, not accident.

Vega has been so filled with grief over his death that she has chosen to largely ignore truly looking at the circumstances surrounding his untimely death and the questionable last message left on her voicemail. The phone call prompts her to take on the investigation of his death herself, and indeed, she finds several clues about his last story.

All this ties back into the serial murders of young women and a secret sect of the Catholic Church (based in fact) that has its own forensic unit, tasked with investigating crimes gleaned from the confessional and secret Church archives. In particular, two priests are involved in investigating the missing young women, in tandem (and in secret) with the police.

Of course, this brief synopsis does not begin to hint at the multi-layered storyline, filled as well with intriguing Roman architecture, art history, and Church lore. There are also some interesting profiling and serial killer anomalies. Translated from the Italian using British idioms, the novel is a fascinating look at many things. To get the most from it, however, requires a certain degree of alertness not always necessary for bedtime mystery reading. Still, for those up for the challenge, there is ample reward, if only in the unusual settings that a true Roman can bring to his story.

Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, January 2014

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