An Eccentric in Lucca

Meet Penelope Strachan, the Contessa di Capezzani-Batelli. A first class pianist with a photographic memory, she holds sway over her Chamber Opera Group of Lucca (COGOL for short) in this historic Tuscan city, the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini amongst other notable composers.

You might ask how an English Rose became an Italian Contessa? This is revealed in the first book of the series, ERRANT ANGELS. These fallen ones are the various members of her precious COGOL – their musical talents matched only by the skeletons most of them have hanging in their cupboards. Crime rubs shoulders with the diving operatic creations of the masters, as this quartet moves into its second edition.

In ERRANT ANGELS, rehearsals are well underway for the next eagerly awaited performance by the Chamber Opera Group of Lucca, led by the eccentric Contessa, with her cantankerous little dog and equally problematic housekeeper in tow. La Contessa di Capezzani-Batelli is something of a leading light in Lucca’s social circles, but her singing angels, as she calls them, prove to be far from heaven-sent and their private lives not nearly as sweet as their singing!

Not only are the two sopranos in desperate competition with each other and the mezzo-soprano close to complete emotional breakdown; the lineup is completed by a highly-respected antiques dealer who, for the first time, dabbles in the darker side of his trade; a leading accountant with criminal leanings, not to mention his reputation as a stud; a brow-beaten cuckold with a loathing for his wife; and a gourmet with a bass range to match his expanding waistline.

The Contessa, too, has her demons as the clock ticks towards the night of the performance. Then there are the women who turn up dead and Senior Inspector Conti, who is no closer to finding the culprit.

In FEELINGS OF GUILT the Chamber Opera Group of Lucca is back for more music and misadventure. Led by the eccentric Contessa, who is plagued equally by nostalgia and the irksome behaviours of her vindictive dog and irascible housekeeper, COGOL is preparing for its latest fundraising concert, this time in aid of The Brook charity for working animals in the Middle East and India. She still feels great joy at the sounds produced by the group’s heavenly voices. However, their private lives are not nearly as angelic as their vocal harmonies.

Roberta with her copy of FEELINGS OF GUILT in the Tourist Information office in Lucca. One of the characters in the stories is based on her.

The third in the series, FAMILY CONCERNS, finds the Contessa still spreading her goodwill around Lucca. With the support of her son, Luigi, she embarks upon a project to extend the hospice premises set up in memory of her late husband, the Count. She also finds the time to support a young Scottish couple who have arrived in Lucca to set up shop, as she is worried that Italian palates will have no taste for the fish and chips they are offering. Meanwhile, the members of COGOL are in disarray and personal rivalries almost threaten to get in the way of the performance. A fourth murder has also taken place and Senior Inspector Conti is no nearer to solving any of them.

The fourth book in this series, ROOM TO BREATHE, is planned for publication around the middle of 2022. The Contessa and COGOL are back, but so is interference from organized crime, not to mention the sudden good fortune which unexpectedly changes things for both the cuckolded husband and the Contessa’s housekeeper, reminding her of life well over half a century before in an Irish orphanage. The romantic attraction between Arthur Crowe, director of the Banda Inghiltalia, and the Contessa grows, although she is concerned that the Count might be unhappy at the prospect, even though he has been dead for years. Mezzo-soprano Maria Santini seems to be getting the better of her demons and might well soon leave the psychiatric clinic and return to Lucca and COGOL, but where would that put her fellow mezzo, Susan Kinross? More to the point, as far as Senior Inspector Conti is concerned, could the ultra-expensive Aqua D’Oro di Mars cologne really be the solution to the murders, which still remain unsolved?

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