Signatures in Stone 2014 Winner DAPHNE DU MAURIER AWARD for Mystery and Suspense Writing from RWA
REVIEW OF SIGNATURES IN STONE FROM RAIN TAXI
The evocation of place is a primary pleasure
for many readers of literary mysteries, the
atmosphere and details of a well-described
setting central to the complexity of unknowns and
the explorations of their nuances. In fact, good
mysteries tend to explore place more than any
other literary form, often because the history of a setting, its buried
past, must be probed in depth to attain comprehension of
what has happened in the present.
Linda Lappin has created such a setting in Signatures in Stone,
using the actual landscape of Bergamo and its Renaissance Park of
the Monsters. But by locating Bergamo in an ancient region called
Tuscia, Lappin conjures an environment with its own reality. Although
the novel is set in the 1920s, the principals, dislocated
from 20th-century Paris and London, find themselves thrust into
a primeval world.
The novel’s opening page literally plunges the central characters
into that world, first introducing them under the sky’s bright
light in a gleaming Packard driving though an enchanting Italian
landscape of meadows, flowers, and olive trees. But suddenly:
About a hundred miles north of Rome, we turned inland to
cross a marshland, then a succession of arid hills where broken
bits of ancient Roman aqueducts stood stark against the
twilight. Farther on, deep ravines gashed the
terrain like unhealed fissures from which rose
twisted masses of gray stone where ancient
houses, domes, and grottoes and were chiseled
along the edges. Only a great turbulence from
deep within the earth could have gouged out
such chasms . . .
The story itself echoes that turbulence.
Effective as it is, place alone will not satisfy the
needs of a compelling mystery. The characters
must also fulfill the challenges offered by the setting.
Lappin has populated a dilapidated villa and
its adjacent park of grotesque sculptures with a
vivid group of victims and suspects who turn out
to be mysteries in themselves, not who or what
they seemed to be when first introduced.
The one stable character in that sense is the narrator,
a “woman-of-a-certain-age” (her term for herself) mystery
novelist named Daphne DuBlanc. On the edge of poverty, Daphne’s
only support is the income from her writing. She does not
have deep and dramatic secrets, but psychologically she is on the
edge, blocked as an author, desperate for drugs and sex, and subject
to seeming hallucinations. As such, Daphne is not a reliable
narrator; this trait perplexes the character as much as it does the
reader. Daphne often finds herself threatened and disoriented.
The villa she inhabits, lit only by candlelight, is a place of many
shadows, hidden passageways, strange noises, crumbling walls,
and rare art of great worth. People and forces can emerge from the
darkness or literally drop out of the ceiling. Beyond the sculpted
monsters it houses, the park itself is even more ominous with
caves, pits, and booby traps.
While the primary pleasures of Signatures in Stone are its places
and its people, the story itself satisfies because its twists are engrained
in the chasms of its setting and its characters. -- Walter Cummins Rain Taxi
Bomarzo, March 1928
We arrived in the evening after an exhausting drive along the sea through a land of silvery olive trees where innumerable dirty sheep dotted the meadows, and a rosy haze of blooms shimmered above low-lying peach groves. The Italian countryside looked sleepy and wet. Tenuous clouds, pinkish and plum–colored, streaked and feathered a lavender sky. And the light! Impossible to describe the tints of amber, ochre, bloodied tangerine. I was enchanted, but our artist friend Clive was too woozy to rhapsodize. He sat green-faced in the front passenger seat, clutching his Stetson on trembling knees, groaning at every curve. Determined to reach Bomarzo before nightfall, Nigel steered our gleaming Packard, fearless and expert, along dirt tracks, scattering chickens from the roadside, while I sat in the back, wrapped in a shawl, looking out at solitary oaks and ruined towers. Though I may have reached that phase of life dubiously called “a certain age” when women often cease to enjoy traveling, nothing engages my fantasy more than a long road trip with rapid changes of scenery, as in this undiscovered country called Tuscia.
So begins the intriguing new work by this remarkable novelist, a work in which she captures both Italian art and Italian history through a page-turning thriller involving deep secrets, robbery, and murder.
We are constantly immersed in a network of signs and symbols whose meaning eludes us, but which, if only we could read them, would reveal every detail of our past and even of our future. Little signs presaging an event, and persisting in their own way till long after it is over. A sort of anticipating echo. They are everywhere--- a casual word in a conversation overhead, an unusual design of seaweed and twigs washed up on the beach, a picture on a postcard slipped in between the pages of a borrowed book, a glove abandoned on a train. But to make them speak intelligibly...that is another question. -- Linda Lappin Signatures in Stone