The scene of this particular crime was the Italian butcher where I liked to stop for my lunch. The proprietor, Mr. Giordano, put up a kind of Italian sausage called salsicciotto on Tuesdays that he seasoned with salt and peppercorns, then smothered in olive oil for two months, to extraordinary effect. He could sell every last one in an afternoon if he wanted to, but by doling them out on Tuesdays, he found that he could lure people into his shop once a week and make sure they left with all manner of goods imported from Italy: soap, perfume, hard cheese, enamelled plates, lemon candy. The profits from those trinkets helped compensate for the cost of shipping over the extravagantly priced olive oil in which he ages the salsicciotto. I was but one of many willing participants in his scheme. Along with the sausage I tool a bag of lemon candy weekly, finding it useful to dispense during interrogations.
The man ran out of the shop just as I rounded the corner onto Passaic Avenue. Mr. Giordano gave chase, but the thief had the advantage: he was young and trim, while the butcher was a rotund gentleman of advanced age who could do little more than stump along, huffing and shaking his fits.
He would’ve been out of luck, but there I happened to be, in my uniform, equipped with a gun, handcuffs, and a badge. I did what any officer of the law would do: I tucked my handbag under my arm, gathered my skirts in my hand, and ran him down.
The fourth novel in the historical fiction Miss Kopp series by Amy Stewart is a strange story. It is promoted as a mystery (all the series is), but it is hardly one. I mean, there is a mystery – not a very mysterious one – but that’s not the main plot. In fact there are a few threads running alongside each other and in the end they do all come together, but so late in the story that for the most part I kept wondering what was this story I was being told all about.
This is not to say I didn’t enjoy it. It’s a good one, with a great pace, a fantastic historical reconstruction (in the acknowledgements at the end, Stewart tells about the actual history behind these events. I was very impressed). The characters are nice and relatable. There’s everything that a story should have, but that separate threads gave me a sense of “unfocusness”, if this makes any sense.
This is the only novel I’ve read in this series, but my impression is that this is a story of passage from one stage of Constance’s life to another, and so it seems to serve the overarching structure of the series rather than the single novel. As a first time reader, this baffled me, but I’m sure if I had followed the story from the start, it would make a lot more sense.
I really really like the historical setting. It is clear that the author is completely at ease in it. There are so many details about Constance’s everyday life that help the setting come to life in a way not many historical writers ever achieve.
I’m also quite impressed with how Stewart uses the historical characters and events. It is apparent that most which is in these stories is true, and the author strived to put as little fiction as possible in it. Basically all the main characters are people who really lived in that time and place, their lives and sometimes their dialogue reconstructed through speeches, newspaper articles, official documents and all a host of primary sources – which is fascinated in itself, if you ask me. The secondary characters and their arcs are based on true events when the facts of the lives of true people are not available. It’s a huge historical undertaking.
But it’s also a good story. Stewart manages to morph the historical facts that she has into a compelling tale, something we do want to read because we care for the characters and because the plot is good.
It’s a truly enjoyable read.
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