Cold Tuscan Stone, David P. Wagner

Rick Montoya has moved from New Mexico to Rome, embracing the life of a translator. He’s settling into la dolce vita when a school friend who is now a senior in the Italian Art Squad recruits Rick for an unofficial undercover role. Armed with a list of galleries, suspects, and an expense account, Rick would arrive in Tuscany posing as a buyer for a Santa Fe gallery and flush out burial urn traffickers.

But before sunset on Rick’s first day in Volterra, a gallery employee dies in a brutal fall from a high cliff.

The local Commissario and his team consider Rick an amateur, and worse, a foreigner. And now they suspect him in the dead man’s murder. While the Volterra squad pursues its leads, Rick continues to interview his list: a museum director, a top gallery owner, a low-profile import/export businessman and his enterprising colour-coordinated assistant, and a sensuous heiress with a private art specialty and clientele.

When Rick’s girlfriend Erica arrives from Rome to visit him, she rekindles a friendship with an alluring, maybe dangerous, acquaintance. Has Rick’s role made him the target of both cops and criminals?

Richard comments
David Wagner lived in Italy for nearly ten years which formed a solid basis for writing about Italy. He worked in the foreign service which likely made him very observant about the country’s culture and social patterns. As importantly, his appreciation of fine foods, fine dining and quality wines indulging in all of them with great enthusiasm. Being an English scholar meant he was always very conscientious about his writing and note keeping that proved to be of great benefit to his writing career. He published his first book, Cold Tuscan Stone, in 2013 launching his writing career. Five more have followed, all starring his leading character, Rick Montoya, an American who has lived, studied and worked in Italy for so long, he is often mistaken for being a native.

Cold Tuscan Stone is set in Volterra, a medieval town located southwest of Florence. Our protagonist, Rick Montoya is a self-employed translator but his high school buddy, a high official in the cultural ministry in Rome asks him to undertake a project to uncover art thefts. There’s suspense, tension, murder and skulduggery throughout, all interspersed with bits of Italian dialogue and lots of descriptions about the Tuscan foods, the wines of the region and the social mannerisms of Italians.

Wagner is emulating another American writer who is renowned for her Commissario Brunetti mystery stories, a Venetian police inspector. Though many obvious comparisons may be made between the two writers, Leon has a lengthier pedigree, 30 years versus Wagner’s 10. Both authors incorporate current social issues and national problems facing Italy currently. Montoya though is more of a foreigner than Brunetti, so his observations about Italians, their culture and their society are more myopic than Brunetti, a native Venetian. Both characters talk about food and wine throughout their stories.

Wagner writes a good story, engaging and entertaining. Cold Tuscan Stone is a nice mystery thriller with a very nice blend of culture, history, and mystery tension and suspense. Because Wagner’s writing is polished and refined, the story is enjoyable throughout the entire read. Wagner closes his book with a chapter about wine and another with comments about Italy and the background of Volterra.

Wagner’s book is a good read though I prefer Leon’s pacing and storytelling more.

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