April Smith, “White Shotgun”

It’s a great title, isn’t it? “White shotgun” is apparently the term used in Italy when someone vanishes and no trace remains, no body, no documents…. nothing. As we are told in the first chapter, this is the result when a body is tipped into a massive, pink-frothed vat of lye, somewhere in the woods.

preparation for the Palio in Siena

I hadn’t read April Smith before, but she’s good at her job. White Shotgun is a taut, nasty thriller. A leeetle bit too nasty for me, seeing as how I’m terribly squeamish. But Smith certainly knows how to keep the pages turning. The protagonist is FBI Agent Ana Grey, a tough professional who finds herself all unsettled by her assignment in Italy. Seems she has a half-sister named Cecilia Nicosa whom she didn’t even know about. Seems Cecilia is married to an Italian coffee baron with ties to Italy’s mafias. So when the FBI receives letters for Ana, begging that she visit Cecilia in her “house on a hillside” outside of Siena, that becomes an assignment.

But of course nothing is as it seems in Italy. Ana’s charming teenage nephew? A drug addict. The handsome Nicoli Nicosa, Cecilia’s husband? You don’t Even Want To Know. Even Ana’s boyfriend Sterling McCord, an operative with a shadowy private security company, seems suddenly unreliable. Smith ramps up the drama by setting the story in summer-time Siena, during Palio. You know, the crazy horse race run in beautiful Piazza del Campo, when the various contrade of the town compete. Lots of local color. Smith’s gift for that is also applied to a crack house in Calabria, though, where an arch-villain known as “The Puppet” (for his wooden hands) presides over the cutting of heroin. Very vivid, very disturbing. There’s kidnapping, assassination, and another visit to the grisly vat of lye.

As a thriller-writer, Smith has a pretty dark view of the world. For much of the novel, Ana is operating on false assumptions, kept in the dark either by her incomprehension of Italian language and culture, by the procedures of the FBI, or by her free-lancing colleagues. In this novel she does not actually get physically mauled beyond a superficial knife wound to her hand, but the psychic wounds are pretty serious. Since I instantly downloaded the three previous Ana Grey novels I’ll keep you posted on the rest of her story. I’m sure it’s going to be hard to put down.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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4 Responses to April Smith, “White Shotgun”

  1. Pingback: Follow my book blog, “Book Group of One” | | Carol Wallace BooksCarol Wallace Books

  2. Chelsea says:

    This sounds just disturbing enough to work! Also, Sterling McCord? Really? I can’t decide if this is the best or the worst name for, essentially, a secret agent dating another secret agent. Delicious. Thanks for the great review!

    • carolwallace says:

      I know: “Sterling McCord” — a cyborg? An after-shave? And unfortunately the character isn’t much more fleshed-out, if I may. But you put your finger on the basic tricky nature of the relationship. Not unlike that Clive Owen/Julia Roberts vehicle, “Duplicity.” Only Sterling’s not as fetching as Clive, I’m pretty sure.

  3. Pingback: April Smith, “Judas Horse” « Book Group of One

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