Pretentious in Florence: Mark Mills' The Savage Garden
Personally, I like my crime to have a more literary flavour than your average Agatha Christie affords , but Mark Mills could take a few tips from the 'Queen of Crime' with regard to plot development. Nobody in the library crime reading group liked this, a Dan Brown-style mystery/murder set around a villa near Florence.
The main problem is that the murders happened some years before, during wartime, so there's no sense of urgency, although it does have some bearing on who is the rightful heir to ownership of the property. It's not particularly well-written and the narrator is too immature and lacking in character for us to empathise.
An indolent Oxbridge student's tutor offers him the chance to complete a thesis in Italian garden design through a contact in Tuscany. The Roman statuary dotted about within it seem to have symbolic meaning. Research into the poetry of Dante and Ovid point to a murder.
His middle-aged landlady seduces the priapic youth as as soon as he arrives but he's more interested in the young virginal niece of the elderly female villa owner. His pheronomes seem so string that one even suspects the old lady will be involved at some point. The graphic sex scenes are not attractive and put most readers off the book. I suppose all the talk of Dante is educational in its way, althouhg it just seems like showing off. The hero's wastrel bohemian brother turns up around page 200 and promises to liven things up, but he soon disappears. Even the young man's parents in Purley, whom he despises for their mediocrity, have all too short a stay.
The book is praised on the cover for its setting, but I'd say read EM Forster's Room With a View or see the film starring Dame Judi Dench. A better mystery story is John Mortimer's Summer's Lease, which has also been made into a film.