A well-off English woman is married to a not so well-off Italian nobleman and has acquired the name and title of Duchess Lola d'Acquaviva, quite impressive, but unfortunately her marriage is in tatters. She lives with her dog in her in-laws' villa on Capri, her husband works and stays mainly in Naples visiting her only occasionally, the people she sees most often are her gay Italian neighbour and her cleaning lady. To occupy her mind she decides to write a book, she doesn't have any special interests or qualifications, but the neglected villa adjoining hers, which once belonged to a well-known foreign aristocrat and paedophile, gives her the idea to write about this man.
In order to get into the mood of the period, the turn of the last but one century, and to learn more about the man she sends an email to the Englishman Simon Parks who's specialised in hunting down rare second-hand books. From discussing useful titles they turn to discussing the topic proper of her novel-to-be, but then Lola's interest starts shifting from the dead foreign paedophile to the death of a ten-year-old local boy who fell off the cliffs not far from the villa only some years before and about whose death Lola hears only by chance. Why wasn't it discussed at the time, why haven't any rumours reached her?
When she starts inquiring about it, she meets feigned ignorance, disdain, repugnance and open hatred. From the few snippets of information she does get she deduces that the boy was the victim of a paedophile, from there it's not far to the question if he fell accidentally, jumped or was pushed off the cliffs. It doesn't take long until she's immersed in the mystery forgetting completely the book she wanted to write, she even thinks she's found some clues that lead her to the criminal, if she's right, her own life is in danger.
But then something happens and all is not what it seemed to be up to then, we read on and until the last page enjoy this turn, but then something else happens and nothing is what it seemed to be up to then again. If you've followed me, you must be convinced that the ending is catastrophic, mustn't you? Why then does a critic write in their review on the net, "...everything ends in hymeneal joy."
If you're puzzled now, that's fine with the author! If you take her words at face value, you'll come to one conclusion, if you look at the style in which they're written, you'll read something else into them. Hats off to Ms Prantera for her ingenious last page!
The style is worth a close look, the whole novel consists of emails; that isn't so original nowadays any more, I've already read another one with emails inserted but there was also a lot of prose and the emails were written by different people. In Capri File we only read the emails Lola sends to Simon Parks, we never see an answer. The first two letters are quite formal (Dear Mr Parks), but already from the third letter it's Dear Simon, later Dear Si or Hi Sparky, he soon becomes her ersatz confesser; she even invites him to visit her on Capri.
Should there be readers who don't know much about the internet, this quickly growing intimacy may be puzzling, but everyone who's ever looked into a forum or chat room (or an opinionating site!) and has seen the shamelessness with which strangers exchange their most intimate thoughts will accept Lola's outbursts without a problem.
Although we never read Simon's answers, we know what they are, Lola reacts to them, agrees or disagrees, this is cleverly done, we don't miss them. The pace is fast, Lola's getting more and more hysterical the deeper she digs into the secrets of the community, and as we see all happenings only through her eyes, we feel with her. I finished the 224 pages in one day, I think this is proof enough about the cracking suspense of the novel.
The story is plot driven and as it deals with crime, it doesn't wallow in descriptions, the topic Capri is not exploited, for example, yet, it shines through with its overwhelming beauty, some sentences, for example when Lola tells Simon what she sees when looking out of the window, are enough to evoke it. I've been to Capri three times, but always only as a day tourist, I know that there is a hidden Capri which tourists rarely discover, this book lets us have a glimpse, according to Lola there's a sinister undercurrent to all the Mediterranean beauty.
The characters are well drawn, new facets come to light all the time, even after seven years of marriage Lola and her husband don't seem to really know each other. Her mother-in-law, who she calls 'the cobra' in her emails, is given only small room but she's nevertheless a decisive factor in the end, at least in my reading.
About the author: wherever you look, you always find the same information about her, namely: "Amanda Prantera was born and brought up in East Anglia. She went to Italy for a brief holiday when she was twenty and has lived there ever since." She's written ten previous novels, the only other one I've read is 'Letters to Lorenzo' (see my review), also highly recommendable. Take these books with you when you go to Italy on holiday or read them at home instead of doing so, you won't regret it.
RRP 6.99 GBP