Cold Tuscan Stone

David P. WagnerCold-Tuscan-Stone-med-res-front-cover-178x276

ISBN: 9781464201905

Poisoned Pen Press

Former Texan Rick Montoya lives in Rome working as a freelance translator. Immersing himself in Italy’s rich culture and cuisine, he is an unlikely candidate for an undercover agent working for a local police department in Tuscany. But when his old high school buddy Beppo Rinaldi, who now works for the Italian Ministry of Culture, asks for his help he is intrigued and quickly steps up to the challenge.

There are art thieves in the city of Volterra, in western Tuscany, selling priceless Etruscian burial urns on the black market to the highest bidder. Montoya is to pose as a buyer from Santa Fe to connect with the antiquity art community to lure them out for the police. The job seems easy enough with the local police guiding him – until he arrives and finds out the locals really don’t trust an outsider from Texas who isn’t part of a law enforcement agency.

Rinaldi has him focus interviewing three possible suspects. One is a gallery owner, one is an heiress, and one is in the import/export business. Each of them agree to speak with Montoya, all of them are mysterious but in different ways. The night he arrives, someone ends up dead. Montoya appears to be the last one that spoke with the murdered man. This gives the local Commissario more reason to distrust the American.

Montoya’s investigation is further complicated because one of the prime suspects is a gorgeous friend of the woman he is seeing. Now Montoya needs to balance a jealous girlfriend, a resentful police force and work on a translation job all the while trying to convince the possible suspects that he is really an art dealer from the states. Will they find the art thief before someone else dies?

Wagner uses his intimate knowledge of Italy to bring this novel to life with the delicious descriptions of cathedrals, Italian art and foods that complement this mystery. The  plot has more twists and turns than a bowl of al dente rotini and is abundant with local flavor, that will surprise and satisfy the reader at the end.

I am delighted that this is the first in a new series by Wagner. He is the author of self-guided day trips that were written to accompany villas rented in Tuscany. Lucky for avid mystery fans he decided to take up novel writing, creating a memorable character like Rick Montoya. The nine years spent in Italy during his career in the foreign service, as well as living and working in Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay and stateside will give him the rich background of different cultures to create many more mysteries for us to enjoy.