***The Sudden Disappearance of the Worker Bees


(photo: James DeMers for Pixabay)

By Serge Quadruppani (A Commissario Simona Tavianello Mystery) – On vacation somewhere in the mountainous part of Italy, police Commissario Simona Tavianello and her husband Marco, himself a capo commissario (police chief) encounter the dead body of an engineer for a major—and highly secretive—agricultural research firm. Local activists suspect the victim’s company of contributing to the disappearance of the area’s honeybees, and he’s been shot on the premises of a deserted beekeeper’s shop. While this case ordinarily wouldn’t involve the vacationing couple, it soon emerges that the murder weapon was Simona’s own gun.

A smarmy television reporter . . . an eccentric local scientist . . . a shady government spy . . . a ruthless industrialist—the full deck of eccentric personalities is here, against the backdrop of a real-life crisis in agriculture and some interesting speculation on the promise (or is it the threat?) of nanotechnology.

Possibly it’s an artifact of the translation of this mystery, but a time or two I was unclear which of the book’s many characters was under discussion. More puzzling was the author’s habit of having characters openly blurt out a confession, subverting the mystery. Poor Simona (who ordinarily works for the anti-mafia squad) is involved in the case because of her gun, and she’s also in the way, as the local police try to sort things out.

Her husband is retired and she herself is described as white-haired and a little thick around the middle, yet she still has an eye for the handsome beekeeper that arouses her husband’s jealousy, mostly good-natured. They are old antagonists, locked in a lifelong battle that pleases them both. Their relationship is quite fun for the reader, too.

Quadruppani has a distinctive, somewhat breathless writing style, moving his characters rapidly from one scene to another, and a facility with description of the Italian countryside and lifestyle. Fans of previous books in this series may have developed a fondness for Simona and Marco. As a first-time reader, I found the pace a little frantic—too reminiscent of a bee flitting from flower to flower, gaining information pollen grain by grain, but still needing some serious processing to produce honey.