Hotel Portofino: Lovers and Liars

Written by J. P. O'Connell
Review by Karen Warren

This is the second in a series of stories about a luxury hotel in Portofino, set in the 1920s. Bella, the owner of the hotel, is trying to expand and to keep up with the demands of her guests, while battling against Italian bureaucracy. At the same time, she is threatened by the return of her wayward husband Cecil and weighed down by the emotional demands of her adult children.

Sub-plots involve the lives of the hotel’s employees and guests, the shadowy world of the Camorra, and organised resistance to the growing power of the Fascists.

The story has potential, with the aftermath of the First World War and the contrast between the sun-filled Italian Riviera and a country veering towards Fascism. However, I didn’t really feel it worked as a standalone book: I might have found it easier to read if I had read the first in the series (or watched the TV adaptation).

There is a large cast of characters, and it isn’t always obvious who they are or how they fit in with the story. It was hard to care about situations and characters that were so lightly drawn, and I found the book slightly dull in parts. I would have liked more sense of time and place, deeper characterization, and a more coherent narrative arc. As it was, I felt that it was light on historical detail, had too many sub-plots, and lacked a satisfactory conclusion.