Book Review: Nonna Maria and the Case of the Missing Bride

  • Title: Nonna Maria and the Case of the Missing Bride
  • Author: Lorenzo Carcaterra
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Genre: Cozy Mystery
  • Would I recommend: Absolutely. Y’all don’t be fooled by the fact that she isn’t young and tech-savvy. Nonna Maria is a sleuth to be reckoned with.

Synopsis:

When a crime on a beautiful Italian island stumps the police, locals turn to the trusted, elderly widow Nonna Maria in this transporting mystery from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lorenzo Carcaterra, one of the all-time greats (Jeffery Deaver).

Nonna Maria has lived in Ischia, an island in the Gulf of Naples, her entire life. Recognizable by the widow’s black she’s worn every day for decades, she always has pasta on the stove and espresso in the pot for the neighbors who stop by to ask her advice on life and love. Everyone knows her, and she knows everyone’s business. So if something goes wrong, islanders look to her, and not the local carabinieri, to find the solution.

When a recently engaged woman confesses that she’s afraid her fiance might not be who he seems, Nonna Maria helps her disappear while she investigates the true nature of her betrothed, a stranger to Ischia with a murky past. The stranger has also raised the suspicions of Captain Murino of the carabinieri, but he’s occupied investigating the death of a tour boat captain who drowned in the wee hours of the morning. Captain Murino believes it’s an accident, but Nonna Maria knew the man was a born sailor, and too good a swimmer to drown, no matter how much wine he might have drunk. While Captain Murino has his hands full, she pours herself a glass of white wine and gets to work, even though getting involved will expose her to the dangers lurking just beneath the surface of her idyllic home. 

My review:

Nonna Maria has lived on the island of Ischia her whole life. In fact, she’s never traveled anywhere else. She knows everyone on the island quite well (and is probably related to half the people there), and they know and trust her. They come to her with their problems before they’ll go to the law because of their long-standing relationships with her. And Nonna Maria helps. She says she doesn’t investigate, she helps friends.

There are two threads to follow here. First, we have Anna, our “missing bride,” who comes to Nonna Maria in tears as the book opens. She has agreed to marry a man, a stranger to Ischia, and now doubts that he is who he claims to be. Then we have Pasquale, a sailor born if ever there was one, who has fallen overboard to his death in the ocean that he loved. The police have very little to go on with Pasquale’s death, and can’t really do anything with Anna’s fiance, but Nonna Maria can and does sort things out.

This is not a fast-paced, action-packed book. If that’s what you’re looking for, you might not enjoy it. Me, I loved it! I’m not as young as I used to be myself, and it’s always a treat for a book to feature a more seasoned sleuth. Nonna Maria is precisely that, and in addition, she’s an independent woman who definitely knows her own mind. She only drinks the coffee she makes (and she makes it strong!), and she sees no point in water, but will indulge in a glass of wine. I think she’s my new favorite main character.

And true to her assertion, Nonna Maria doesn’t really investigate. She has no phone, no car, no television. She doesn’t get on the internet to dig up public records or old news articles. She talks to people, one friend to another, to learn the things she needs to know. Her circle of friends is broad, ranging from the parish priest at the local church (you know, the one she doesn’t attend) to a man who keeps to the shadows but whose reputation still carries weight, to a crime lord from Naples to the local mechanic. It is her many connections and relationships that allow her to get to the heart of just about any matter.

She doesn’t go it alone, either. The whole island looks out for their Nonna. She is on good terms with Captain Murino of the carabinieri as well. He may not be local to Ischia, but he would no more let harm come to Nonna Maria than any of her friends or family would. He’s got a personal stake in one of the two mysteries, and he hopes she can ferret out information that he might never have access to in his official capacity.

I loved the slower pace of this book. I want to visit Ischia now, to hear Aldo Poli play piano at the Bar Calise while I enjoy a cool beverage. It sounds like a lovely place to spend some time, and I hope the author takes us back there in future books!

If pulse-pounding thrillers are more your speed, don’t pick up this book. But if, like me, you enjoy a well-crafted mystery set in a jewel of a place, with a protagonist who’s sharp as a tack and who looks out for her friends, you need to read this. It’s a hit with me.

Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy from NetGalley and Random House. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books that I don’t actually like.

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