This is one of those books that I picked up in the library just because it appealed – the recently returned shelves are always worth looking through just to see what is being read.
If you are going to read a book about Rome you want to be transported there: the heat, buildings, the food and the cafes are almost essential and this book does not let you down. But also included are gardens and flowers because this is a book of two voices, Lottie in the present day and Nina in the 1970s and through exploration of what happened to Nina, she was murdered, Lottie comes to understand more about herself and her new marriage and what is important.
The story leads us into the slightly murky world of The Church, politics and the past and how things that went on were meant to stay hidden and therefore buried deep in the archives which is where Lottie comes in. She takes up a new post as chief archivist and one of her first bundles of documents are those of Nina, a spy in the 1970s linked to groups trying to stop the communists with funding that leads back to America and the CIA.
A refrain that appears throughout the book is one of the fact that a stranger to the place can’t possibly understand what happened in the past because you weren’t there to live through it and is often used to put Lottie in her place. But as usual, outside eyes can see things much more clearly, often detect where the moral compass went awry and is able to do what is ‘right’. As Lottie inches her way to doing this, she becomes more and more part of the city, putting down roots and making peace with Concetta, her husbands housekeeper, who takes a long time to warm to Lottie and with whom there are many small battles.
Buchan did walk the tightrope well and kept me guessing about Lottie’s husband Tom. Was he also a spy? Good or bad? He works for the British Council but seems to have a lot of contacts including knowing what Lottie is up to. You have to wait until the end to see which way he falls in Lottie’s eyes.
Also by Buchan The Museum of Broken Promises