I am torn between describing this book as compelling or interesting. I think I’ll go with the latter. It has been described as a noire drama, but I found the first half of the book quite humorous.
Robert Svenson, a middle-age French teacher from the Midwest, receives a postcard and a Christmas present from his mother’s brother, a man believed to have died at Anzio during WW II. The gift is a valuable Etruscan amulet which Robert sells, ostensibly to pay for a two-month visit to Paris to work on his French. Instead he heads for Italy to find his uncle, lying to his wife, who to my mind is incredibly gullible and pretty laissez faire about his proposed trip.
On his arrival in Rome, Robert has his luggage stolen, followed by his wallet, and is forced to find the means to support himself plus accumulate the funds to search for his uncle. Luckily, the owner of the hotel to which he had been directed from the airport takes him under his wing and gets him a job with a tenuous relative. The friend owns a restaurant and hires Robert, who doesn’t speak Italian and knows nothing about wine, as his wine consultant. Robert acquires other jobs and friends and eventually meets his uncle Jim.
At this point, the novel transitions from humor to darkness, as Jim takes Robert on a tour of his Italy, where he has been living and working as a mine sweeper and finder of antiquities for the past decades. The characters are richly drawn and the reader becomes pulled into the journey, discovers Robert’s moral compass, and comes to understand Jim’s convoluted thinking about his troubled past. The book is in part a tour of the history of the west coast of Italy, focusing on Jim’s knowledge of the Etruscans and of WW II, and colorful friends or acquaintances of Jim’s pop in and out of the story, sometimes with meaning, sometimes not. The food, the wine and the Italian language become threads binding the story together.
However, a sense that something terrible is going to happen increases with each step of the journey, as the meaning of the book’s title is revealed, along with the secret buried in Jim’s heart – one he feels he can only reveal to Robert.
There were parts of this book where the exposition and dialogue were overlong or ponderous, but there is also much to appreciate. Like a moth to the flame, I had to read it to the end.
About the authors
Ian Lahey was born in Milan, Italy. He teaches English Language and Literature in Italy. He leads a quiet life with his wife, his two children and an invisible cat and can often be spotted taking long walks with his wife around his hometown near Udine. He can be easily wiled with offerings of fresh beer or Dr. Who marathons.
Ian Lahey can be found
on Twitter: @Ian_Lahey
Michael Lahey was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but visited Italy in the 1960s and moved there to teach English and lean Italian. He lives in northern Italy with his wife and dedicated this book to his father, who was a US Marine. He is also the author of The Quest for Apollo, a fantasy novel.
The 45th Nail can be found on Amazon: