A Tuscan Immersion
Cold Tuscan Stone, the debut mystery written by Albuquerque resident David P. Wagner and published by Poison Pen Press, was a rare pleasure for me. It's the kind of book that goes down easy, that you pine for a little when you're not reading it and that you want to hand off to a good friend when you finish.
The story revolves around professional translator Rick Montoya, who “had split his life between Italy and New Mexico, so he'd spent enough time in Rome to think like a local.” An old school buddy, now an official in Italy's Ministry of Culture, asks Rick to help him track down some black market Etruscan antiquities by posing as an unscrupulous buyer for a Santa Fe gallery. But almost immediately upon Rick's arrival in the ancient Tuscan city of Volterra, the case gets him mixed up in murder.
To be honest, I don't even care about that part.
Maybe that sounds caustic. Truth is, the mystery in Cold Tuscan Stone isn't particularly suspenseful. Rick, while likeable enough, has about as much personality as sauceless spaghetti. Plotting isn't what I would call tight—too many instances where Rick thinks about something, then has a conversation about the same thing with someone else, then muses to himself about the conversation in retrospect.
But that's not why you read a book like this. You read a book like this out of love—for place, for culture, for history, for travel. You read it because the lengthy detours about authentic multi-course meals in convincing Italian restaurants fill you with happiness and a desire to feast on carbs in rich truffle cream sauces. Because you could peruse vignettes on espresso, expensive shoes, silk ties, stone urns and bas relief alabaster carvings all damn day. In Cold Tuscan Stone, David P. Wagner very obligingly, very capably supplies such pleasures in abundance. In other novels, academic digressions about Roman history, Etruscan workmanship, mannerist painting and Volterran cloud formations might feel like a distraction—but here, they're entirely the appeal. Wagner, who spent nine years in Rome and Milan during his previous career as a Foreign Service Officer, lingers over the sensual minutiae of Italian culture and landscape in a way that's effortlessly enjoyable.
Wagner will be reading from his novel at Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande Blvd NW) on Sunday, Sept. 22, at 3pm. Armchair travelers everywhere should give this book their attention—they won’t be disappointed. As for me, I’ve got just the perfect Italophile friend to pass Cold Tuscan Stone along to. I know she'll love it.
Sunday, Sept. 22, 3pm
4022 Rio Grande NW