Mystery review: ‘The Imbroglio at the Villa Pozzi’ by Clara Benson

December 18, 2015 Review 0

Good grief, that was the most amazing fun. The sixth Angela Marchmont amateur detective series, set in the twenties, sees Angela holidaying in Italy, tangling with spiritualists and meeting an old acquaintance, a certain jewel thief by the name of Edgar Valencourt, last seen charming Angela in The Treasure at Poldarrow Point, book 3 of the series. I always hoped he’d turn up again, but his reappearance was even better than I could have imagined.

The mystery this time is nothing terribly convoluted, but I enjoyed trying to puzzle it out, getting it wrong and watching Angela resolve everything with an airy wave of her hand. But the murder takes a back seat to the characters, and their personal lives. The mysterious Duchessa, for example, who pops up from time to time. The fidgety English clergyman and his long-suffering wife. The almost-convincing medium and the daughter who ‘sees’ things. Even the Italian hotelier and the relaxed ask-no-questions local policeman. All of them feel very real, and the author has cleverly resisted the temptation to resort to caricatures or stereotypes.

But for me the big attraction is Mr Valencourt. He’s a charmer, of course, but then, he’s a con-man, so that goes with the territory, and Angela should know better than to fall under his spell. She does know better, in fact, but somehow she can’t resist him, and he can’t resist her either, even though she knows his criminal background and could give him away. And oh so gently they circle around each other. Their conversations are an absolute delight, every scene sparkling with wit and charm and affection, in a manner completely lost in modern-style books where the romantic couple simply dive into bed together. I loved it.

This book was a joy to read. Italy was the perfect setting, the mystery was plausible, the characters were entertaining and the romance – oh, the romance! If Mrs Marchmont and Mr Valencourt don’t make a match of it eventually, I shall be sorely disappointed. Although Mr Marchmont would seem to be something of an obstacle.

This series just gets better and better. Five stars. At least.

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