In 1908, the renowned opera singer Francesca Frascatti comes to New York to sing Tosca at the Manhattan Opera House. Despite all her fame, she is haunted by the memory of the illegitimate daughter she had abandoned years before, and who is now believed to have immigrated to America. Francesca hires Dante, a detective who poses as her lover, to search for her daughter before the girl’s wealthy grandfather finds her and takes her back to Italy. Meanwhile, Mina DiGianni, a young lacemaker who came to New York as a mail-order bride, becomes Francesca’s dresser at the opera house; her friendship with Francesca and her increasing attraction to Dante provide the only escape from her life in the tenements with her brutal and unfaithful husband, Antonio. The way these two women’s stories, with the various secrets they harbor, eventually come together provides the puzzle that lies at the heart of this excellent first novel by author DeJohn. As she says in an author’s note at the end of the book, she has based the novel on her own grandmother’s search for her mother who abandoned her—a mystery that remains unsolved to this day, and which the author is hoping to solve.
This book is exciting and enjoyable, with the plot resembling an old-fashioned melodrama where the villains have no redeeming qualities. As a long-time opera lover, I particularly enjoyed the background of the New York opera world in the early 1900s, which for the most part seems to be accurately depicted. But without giving too much away, I found the twist at the end implausible; the book would have been even better without it. Other readers may disagree. In spite of this one problem, I would recommend Antonio’s Wife to anyone, especially people who love opera and mysteries.