Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Velda Johnston: The Etruscan Smile

I have completed yet another Velda Johnston novel. This writer's style is smooth, and her novels unfold into a compulsive reading experience-- at least for me. I struggle to get through or to get involved with some of the novels I read. I have not yet had that experience with Johnston's work though this one disappointed me about three quarters of the way in.

In this novel, Samantha Develin has traveled to Italy to find her sister, Althea. She finds her abandoned rented farm house complete with spoiled food, paint rags everywhere, and bad paintings. Althea had traveled to Italy over two years previous in order to paint. Samantha is puzzled by the poor paintings and the lack of mail in the mail box. She meets Arturo, a rich young man and Althea's former lover, and Jeffrey, a neighbor who seems to know more than he is telling. When she finds an Etruscan figure of a goddess in a cave, Samantha feels it is an omen and is linked to her sister's disappearance.

Characterization: 4/5 [The characters are drawn a bit thinly, but I could picture them: Arturo as Gael Garcia Bernal, Samantha as a young Sally Field, and Althea as a younger Nicole Kidman.]

Plot: 3/5 [The plot keeps moving, and the suspense starts early. I like Johnston's novels for this. She shines in terms of plotting. I will say that for the first time, this novel seemed rushed. It was only about 180 pages, and that was just not quite enough to tell a good story. It was almost like she wanted the novel over with.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 3/5 [The things left behind in Althea's disappearance are a bit spooky to me as is the idea of the old abandoned farmhouse. The figure of the Etruscan goddess is also a bit creepy as was the use of a cave as setting for some of the novel. Overall, though, not as much spookiness as I like. This novel felt more like a suspense novel than a Gothic novel.]

Literary elements: 4/5 [I learned something about Italy-- at least in the late 70s when this novels was published and about Etruscan art. References to classical painters and others are also sprinkled throughout.]

Romance? Yes... the novel had the obligatory Italian hunk and the guy next door.

Rating: 3+ stars ***.5

**If you like suspense novels, this one fits the bill; however, it's very light on the Gothic elements, so give it a pass if you are looking for those.


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