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A Deadly Paradise: A Commissario Cenni Investigation    by Grace Brophy order for
Deadly Paradise
by Grace Brophy
Order:  USA  Can
Soho, 2008 (2008)

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

In A Deadly Paradise, the second of Grace Brophy's top-notch police procedural mysteries featuring Commissario Alessandro Cenni, the cynical but charming Italian homicide investigator is involved in another difficult case. Unfairly haunted by his past and justifiably disappointed in his personal life, Cenni has lately been working unhappily out of the town of Foligno but is most eager to return to working in his beloved Perugia. Then, when a German diplomat named Jarvinia Baudler is brutally mutilated and murdered in the Umbrian village of Paradiso, Cenni - having been assigned to the politically sensitive case - believes a successful investigation and quick arrest will almost certainly be followed by his reassignment to Perugia.

Early evidence, favored by many, suggests that an enraged lesbian lover may have been responsible for Ms. Baudler's murder. In fact, the murderer may have been someone Baudler had met more than a year earlier in Africa, and Cenni will find himself under considerable pressure to focus almost exclusively on that 'person of interest.'

Notwithstanding the preliminary evidence, though, other problems in the case immediately complicate Cenni's investigation:

1. For reasons they will not disclose, German security officials are most anxious to recover certain sensitive documents that Baudler may have had in her possession;

2. Anita Tangassi, Baudler's landlady, a woman with an unusual physical deformity, had recently been openly hostile toward her tenant;

3. Nearly three decades earlier, in the same town, the brutal murders of a woman and her young daughter went unsolved, and - surprisingly - someone connected to the current investigation may have been a key witness in the unsolved double-homicide;

4. In the months prior to her death, Baudler had received several threatening letters - now missing - which contained gruesome details about what should happen to a woman with Baudler's sexual interests;

5. And - perhaps most perplexing - documents in Baudler's possession seem to suggest she had some belated and mysterious connection to the infamous Operation Bernhard, an elaborate counterfeiting scheme perpetrated by the Nazis in 1945.

So, all things considered, it would seem as though Cenni has a lot to work with in the Baudler case. But too many dead-ends, red herrings, and other complications threaten to get in the way and spoil Cenni's triumph (and his much hoped for return to Perugia). Nevertheless, in spite of all obstacles, Cenni never loses sight of the urgent need to solve the case. After all, as the medical examiner first apprised him: 'If I had to call it, I'd say the person who killed the German is mad as a hatter. Not someone you'd want on the loose.'

Consistently intriguing and thoroughly appealing, Commissario Alessandro Cenni is an absolute winner among contemporary protagonists in police procedural mysteries. Compelling characterizations, carefully crafted plotting, and finely rendered Italian settings are the perfectly blended ingredients that make A Deadly Paradise a terrific mystery. Don't miss it!

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