Deb Baker - The Mindful Reader: Finding Italy in 'The Lost Daughter'

By DEB BAKER
The Mindful Reader
July 04. 2015 5:20PM


Boston native Lucretia Grindle lives on the Maine coast as well as in England. In the afterword of her new novel, "The Lost Daughter," she explains that after 9/11, she and her husband talked about "what they would choose to do if the world were going to fly to pieces." Grindle recalls saying, "I want to go to the Uffizi. If World War III is going to break out, let's go to Florence."

That decision turned out to be the first of many trips to Italy, which she calls "one of the most intellectually rich, vibrant, and contradictory countries in the world. . . ." Her extensive travel has inspired several novels.

"The Lost Daughter" is set in contemporary Florence and late 1960s-1970s Ferrara and Rome. It's both a mystery and a historical novel, examining the years when Italy was in the grip of the Brigate Rosse, or Red Brigade, a militant leftist group. When the book opens, the story is focused on a 17-year-old American student, Kristin Carson, who's studying art history in Florence and has a much older boyfriend she met online and knows only as Dante. When her prominent and well-connected orthopedic surgeon father and her stepmother fly to Italy for her 18th birthday, they learn she has disappeared.

Detectives Allesandro Pallioti and Enzo Saenz, who also appear in Grindle's 2010 novel "Villa Triste", must figure out who Kristin's mystery man is and whether she's been kidnapped. Saenz quickly realizes that Kristin's stepmother, Anna Carson, recognizes the man, even in a poor quality photo. Soon after he asks her what she knows, she too goes missing.

As Grindle draws out the mystery, she fills in the story of Anna, and of the man Kristin has been seeing. Along the way she fills the senses with rich descriptions of the places in the book. Here's a passage describing a character who starts working in her father's butcher shop in Ferrara:

"So as the days grew hotter and the nights grew shorter, Angela began to walk in the footsteps of her parents and grandparents. Every morning she threaded her way down the Via Vittoria and along the Via Ragno and into the Via Carbone, which had once been the haunt of the charcoal sellers. She passed under the dark, cool arches of the Via delle Volte . . . and stepped finally into Via Mayr with its traffic and potholed pavement and brick-fronted buildings rimmed with soot."

Grindle also captures the emotional and psychological details of the two detectives, the man who lured Kristin to Italy, Anna, and even the minor characters. If you can't imagine empathizing with criminals, "The Lost Daughter" will remind you that before a person breaks the law, he or she was somebody's child, went to school, imagined life as a grown-up. If you've wondered how anyone can be in love with someone involved in serious criminal activity, you'll have a better understanding of that strange dynamic after you read "The Lost Daughter". And by the time you finish the book, you just may want to travel to Italy.

An evocative, intriguing page turner, with discussion questions included. Highly recommended for book clubs, armchair travelers, history buffs, and fans of smart police procedurals.

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Deb Baker is adult services manager at Concord Public Library and blogs about books at bookconscious.wordpress.com and the library world at thenocturnallibrarian.com. Her opinions are her own and not those of her employer.


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