Apparently the late Magdalen Nabb was not the only Englishwoman who wrote murder mysteries set in Florence. Her Death of an Englishman, I find, was first published in 1981, so I suppose it’s not surprising that Christobel Kent should now feel free to claim this territory. What’s more Kent has branched out in a slightly different direction. Her detective, the intensely likable Sandro Cellini, is a private investigator in this novel (the second in the series), and her cast of characters is an international crew of artists marooned on a retreat of sorts in a gloomy castle in the Maremma. Thus A Fine and Private Place doesn’t have the intensely Florentine atmosphere of the Nabb books, nor the melancholy and somewhat insular atmosphere imparted by Nabb’s investigator, Marshall Guarnaccia.
However. Let’s be honest: this is Mystery Tourism, crafted for readers like me who just want to spend a few hours outside of their own worlds, traveling the somewhat predictable and certainly reassuring trail of the procedural mystery. And while the atmosphere is especially well-handled in this book, the plotting does feel somewhat mechanical. When Loni Meadows, the retreat director, goes off the road in a car on an icy night, it looks like an accident. But it turns out that nobody actually liked the woman, and furthermore that several — oh, wait, I mean all — of the artists had plausible reasons to do her in. As did Count Orfeo, the arrogant, wealthy owner of the castle itself.
You figure it out, or you let Sandro Cellini figure it out for you.