The Mermaid Garden

Written by Santa Montefiore
Review by Mary F. Burns

Heartache and romance wing their way from a palazzo in Italy to an old hotel in Devon-by-the-Sea in England – and the story unravels in suspenseful and amusing ways before we get to the satisfying conclusion. The Italian beginning of the novel provides an interesting backdrop of an Italy still recovering from World War II (well into the ´60s) and the ages-old gulf between the rich and the poor, which seems to be the same story no matter what era or nationality.

A tragic ending to a pair of star-crossed lovers turns abruptly to the present day at a seaside hotel, a renovated mansion with old family retainers still pottering about the place. We assume there’s a connection, but it doesn’t surface for a while. The charming and determined owner, Marina, is desperate to make the place work financially and aesthetically, fulfilling a life-long dream of being hostess of an elegant artistic retreat by the sea. As the “second wife” of a gentleman-architect, she does battle with a resentful, spoiled stepdaughter in her early twenties and a stepson who doesn’t seem to realize the meaning of “dire financial troubles.”

Enter a mysterious South American artist-in-residence who charms all the ladies (and some gents) off their feet with one look from his smoldering brown eyes, and you’ve got a full-fledged romantic mystery-suspense story on your hands. An excellent summer read for the beach, the poolside, or the sofa on a rainy day.