Kent, Christobel - 'A Darkness Descending'
"I just don't understand this - this Frazione Verde thing." He could hear the unease in his own voice. "And I don't like to see you like this. All fired up, all emotional - and I don't know. I like - an even keel. The middle of the road, a quiet life. What do they stand for, after all? Your party?"
In an apartment above a noisy Florentine square, a woman lowers her sleeping baby into its cot and pulls the blanket up towards its chin, inhaling sweet baby breath as she does so. Her thin hand trembles as she closes the door and rejoins her partner in the next room. The evening meal is ready but she is no longer interested in eating. Some days later, the woman's partner - the leader of the eclectic left-wing political group the Frazione Verde - is addressing his supporters at a meeting when he collapses. Local ex-policeman and private investigator, Sandro Cellini, is persuaded by his assistant to help find out what happened. Both she and her boyfriend are members of the Frazione Verde and although their leader, Rosselli, has been discharged from hospital, both are anxious to know the reason behind his collapse. Meanwhile Sandro's wife, Luisa, is shocked by an unexpected visit from a friend who is distraught by her nineteen-year old daughter leaving home to live with a man whom she refuses to introduce to her parents. When Luisa spots the girl chatting to friends in the local market, dressed in silk and high heels rather than her usual student jeans and t-shirt, she is determined to find out what's going on. What brought about this change in the girl and what is she hiding from her parents? But the event at the heart of the story is taking place in a run-down seaside guest-house eighty miles away, where a cleaner grows anxious about the "Do Not Disturb" sign that has been in place on a bedroom door for several days.
"I want my novels to be realistic and believable in human terms." says Kent in a recent interview. Indeed A DARKNESS DESCENDING does examine relationships and the nature of obsession as much as it does death. It is British writer Christobel King's fourth title in her "Sandro Cellini" series. Set against the backdrop of Florence and the emergence of a popular anti-corruption group whose political campaigns are based on local activism and upsetting the long undisturbed "old way" - it is also the story of a suicide. Its initial chapters are written from the individual viewpoints and situations of several characters and so it feels as if the plot gets off to a slow start. However, I haven't read any of this series before so it may have been a slower start for me than for readers familiar with Sandro and his circle. For unlike many other crime investigators Sandro Cellini is not a loner but firmly in relationship - and deeply attached to his wife Luisa. He is a man who likes "an even keel". Another successful Italian investigator who is very much a family man is Donna Leon's character, Commissioner Brunetti. But in this book we see Luisa, Cellini's wife, taking investigation into her own hands whereas Brunetti's wife, Paola, rarely acts as investigator "on page" but instead provides the coolly intelligent lodestone for Brunetti's well-being.
Once the opening viewpoints, characters, and events are gathered together the pace of Kent's book builds as we follow three separate investigations: Sandro's into the disappearance of Rosselli's wife; Luisa's search for a friend's missing daughter; and Sandro's assistant Giuli's attempts to uncover what brought Flavia Rosselli to seek help at the local Women's Centre. In this way the plot knits together and ultimately reveals the wider picture like the complex solution to a jigsaw. A DARKNESS DESCENDING is not for fans of nail-biting suspense and thrills. It is an examination of the generational divide in modern Italian politics, the tactics of corruption, and the darkness that surrounds obsession and the exposed vulnerabilities of the obsessed. I look forward to more of the Sandro Cellini series.
Lynn Harvey, England