Grindle, Lucretia - 'The Lost Daughter'
On a January afternoon in Florence, a 17 year old American student, Kristen Carson, is packing a suitcase. She stops to admire her reflection in the mirror, new hairstyle, a new coat, and picking up the case gives a last glance around the room. She winks at the toy bear on her pillow and walks out of the apartment into the darkening street. But when Kristen's father and stepmother fly into Florence for her birthday, she doesn't turn up at the hotel for dinner and she doesn't answer her phone. Kristen's father is well-connected in Washington and a senior police team is called in to investigate the girl's disappearance.
So begins Lucretia Grindle's main narrative of THE LOST DAUGHTER. This is her second book to feature Pallioti and Saenz; the first being THE VILLA TRISTE. Alessandro Pallioti is one of Florence's most senior police officers and with his deputy Enzo Saenz, heads the specialist team that handles diplomatically and politically sensitive crime.
Kristen's flatmate tells Pallioti and Saenz that there is a mystery man in Kristen's life. One morning, uneasy about the relationship, she has taken a photo of the couple as they get into his car. It shows a good looking man much older than the missing girl but no-one appears to recognise him, except perhaps - although she denies it - Kristen's stepmother Anna. Two days later Anna herself disappears and Pallioti realises that he knows the identity of the man in the photograph.
There is a prologue in THE LOST DAUGHTER which describes the kidnap of ex-Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978. In this way Grindle sets the scene for a narrative that takes us back and forth; between Ferrara and Rome during the 1970s and the present day hunt for Kristen Carson in Florence almost 35 years later. This is a crime novel rooted in Italian social and political history, part of it set at a time when Europe as a whole is transfixed by the terrorist activities of revolutionary and nationalist groups such as Baader-Meinhof, ETA, and the IRA. In particular THE LOST DAUGHTER focuses on the events around the 1978 kidnap and murder of Aldo Moro by Italy's own Brigate Rosse, the Red Brigades.
The novel's present day sequences seem to be populated by successful, prosperous and almost elegant characters; even Pallioti and Saenz seem to qualify here. But Lucretia Grindle writes convincingly about a broader world. When she takes us back to 1970s Ferrara, she paints an intimate and believable picture of the lives of a group of young people: the butcher's daughter, the factory worker's son, and the professor's daughter. What emerges is not just a politico-crime novel but a love story, or to be more precise a story about love - romantic, sexual, familial even patriotic.
This is not a "white knuckle ride" of a book, beginning to end filled with chase, thrills and violence. There is suspense, there is a chase, but for me the novel's structure and the life of its characters drive the tension. I enjoyed Grindle's thoughtful and observant prose and her vivid evocation of place and landscape. Equally important for me was the revelation of a detailed and compassionate portrait of a "lost daughter" other than Kristen, one whose complexities and responses lie at the heart of the novel. So as you may be able to tell, I am impressed and I am looking forward to reading more of Lucretia Grindle's fiction and, I hope, more of the complex crime world of Pallioti and Saenz.
Lynn Harvey, England
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.