But for now...I finished Timothy Williams' Italian mystery, Converging Parallels on the plane, and I very much enjoyed it. I don't think it's in print anymore, as it's rather back list, but I suspect your library will have a copy, and I downloaded an e-copy of it from Kobo. A very well-written book with a likeable detective, Comissario Trotti, somewhat predictably too caught up in his work to have a credible personal life, alienated from his wife whom he still adores, although with hurt frustration, and, to a certain degree, from his teenage daughter because of this. Published in 1982, it's set somewhat earlier, in a time when the inevitable post-war grand-scale changes to Italian society are particularly manifest in power struggles between communist and fascist parties. Industrial pollution is as present in Williams' novel as it is in Donna Leon's series, as are the more subtle powers linking old money-aristocracy and ancient Mafia loyalties with the more obvious political battles. I also found some reinforcement here of what I learned about the foment of the 60s and 70s in Italy through Ferrante's 3rd Neapolitan novel (have any of you begun the 4th yet? I'm going to wait until I can get home and buy the print version, but I'm so tempted!)
So I'd recommend Williams if you'd enjoy a well-written mystery that enhances your understanding of Italy (particularly the North, which is where it's set) -- or simply that allows you to travel there, from your armchair.
Emma Healey's Elizabeth Is Missing supports a different kind of imaginative travel. We get a slice of life in an English town, as it changes from pre-WWII through to the present day. What's both fascinating and potentially frustrating is that this mystery is narrated by an elderly woman in the inexorable grip of dementia. We've seen this kind of experiment before, perhaps most notably with the narrator of Robert Wiersema's Before I Wake, but there are a number of new twists here that make Healey's approach worth engaging with.
Primarily, while Wiersema's narrator is similarly bereft of her short-term memory, in her case due to trauma rather than age, she is able to remember a full day at a time, and she makes coherent journal entries from which she pieces together a credible narrative. By contrast, Healey's narrator-protagonist, Maud, while also trying to bolster her memory with writing, does so through a chaotic series of notes that emphasize the fragility of her cognitive abilities.
I was skeptical throughout of the soundness of the science behind certain elements of the narration. Primarily, and most obviously, Maud would not be able to string together anything as coherent as the narrative we see of the present-day frame story. Yet this narrative captures brilliantly what many of us have experienced of loved ones' decline into what my mother's physician kindly called "mild to moderate cognitive impairment." (Maud moves through these stages and unravels further by novel's end.) Both her daughter's impatience with Maud and Maud's own frustration with her inability to remember or understand or solve the puzzle she's obsessed with will both resonate and illuminate for many.
And then, simply on the level of a mystery, the novel is very satisfying indeed, as Maud's present-day fluster is paralleled by long-term memories triggered by places or foods or a face or smell... Gradually, we begin to realize that past and present overlap in material ways that Maud is not wrong to insist on. Will she be able to figure out a connection before her investigating identity is shut down by the encroaching damage to her cognitive systems? Will anyone listen? Can we have enough imagination to hear the truths behind a confused mind's rambling?
All in all, a very satisfying mystery novel, whether read on an airplane, or on a bench in a Bordeaux park, or in your armchair, wherever home is. Have you read it yet? Let me know what you think, if you have, or if you do. Always interested in your comments...
Next up, Nancy Mitford. All four of the titles that commenter Annie Green helpfully put in order for me at this post, every one here on the wonderfully stocked bookshelves of our borrowed Bordeaux house. Not sure how or why I've never read these before, but I'm gobbling them up now, well into the second, Love in a Cold Climate, and I hope