Little Italy, 1946 – Sophia Mancini would have enjoyed the grand opening celebration of her family’s private detective agency if the volatile chef at Vincenzo’s Ristorante had actually survived the meal. But before Sophia’s chilled spoon hit the spumoni, someone plunged a knife into Vincenzo’s back and the word on everyone’s lips went from mangia to murder.
Sophia soon finds herself trailing crime boss Frankie Vidoni, chatting with his mouthy mistress Maria, and dodging henchman Mooch DiMuccio. She’s suspicious of Vincenzo’s widow, Stella, and his assistant chef, Eugene, because they don’t appear the least bit dismayed by Vincenzo’s passing. There is no conversation Sophia won’t eavesdrop on, no question she won’t ask, and no danger she won’t face to find the killer.
This is a debut work for this Author and the first in the Sophia Mancini Mystery series, and is a delightful cozy mystery set in the post war world of Little Italy. With this setting the novel brings to the reader a reminder of a time and social etiquette that is beginning to fade from memory.
The main protagonist is a post war female, adjusting to living in a world where women once again have to take a back seat to the whims of the males in their lives. She is written with humour, warmth and strength coming out of the pages as a woman who is determined to make her own way in the world, despite of all the restrictions imposed on her. The Author manages to instil in her characters the speech and manners of the time, and dresses them according to the fashion trends, which must have required some research on the part of the writer. The extended family is painted with all the rich texture and whimsy one would expect from an Italian family transplanted not that long ago into America, and gives them traits that can still be found in the older generations of such families today. All the Authors characters are loving created, and the reader is able to feel connected to in some way to one or more of them as they progress through the book, investing their time into seeing what the outcome will be for these people who, at times, make you feel like you are not only a part of the family but of the community as a whole.
The setting for the novel is, in itself and for me, one I had never come across before and this added to my enjoyment of the book very much. I could smell the aromas from the numerous Italian restaurants and cafes, hear the mixture of the Italian and American voices, and feel the mistrust there was for anyone they deemed to be outsiders. In her locale, the Author did an outstanding job of bringing into their writing that sense of community, where the whole neighbourhood supports and aids their fellow-man, regardless of the situation. The importance of religion in this locale is a part of the novel too, but not to a point where it became preachy, it is just there as part of the everyday life. There is a lot of dialogue, and well there should be considering the nationality of the players in this novel; it is at times quick and rapidly fired at the reader, with sprinklings of Italian and lots of humour that will make you chuckle and, at times forget that you are actually reading a murder mystery.
There is one thing that really would have made this the perfect little book for me, and that would have been the inclusion of some of the recipes to items the characters eat as they sleuth their way to the conclusion. Alas, it was not to be, so I’ll have to content myself with hoping that somewhere in the rest of this series, the Author may decide to include one or two recipes per book, to add even more flavour to her writing.
I highly recommend this book to lovers of cozy mysteries and anyone looking for a new, easy to read and enjoyable series to follow. I look forward to the next instalment.