The Scarlet Lady

Written by Giada Trebeschi
Review by Edward James

The Scarlet Lady is a conspiracy novel with a difference. As is common with conspiracy novels, the main protagonist, Letizia Cantarini, is an art historian (I suppose because art historians have an expertise in researching the provenance of old and precious objects) who, in the course of exploring a palazzo 30 miles from Rome, discovers a secret room in which a woman was walled up alive in the 16th century. From the remains of her red dress Letizia’s team calls her the Scarlet Lady. Before dying the Lady has written out a long poem containing a series of clues to the whereabouts of a fabulous treasure.

I appreciate that it creates a compelling story to present Letizia with a set of increasingly difficult and dangerous tasks to complete before she can reach her goal, but why was the Scarlet Lady so coy? Why the coded message? It is only Letizia’s profound knowledge of Renaissance art and politics that enables her to solve the Lady’s puzzles and locate the treasure.

The difference between this and other conspiracy novels is that Letizia is not living in the near present but in 1930s Italy, and the dark force opposing her is Mussolini’s Blackshirts. They are ruthless in pursing Letizia, and Trebeschi does not spare the sex and violence. At least six of the main characters are killed before the end of the book. This is a fast-paced political thriller as well as a conspiracy novel, and I think you will enjoy it even if it is far-fetched.

The publishers recommend a wine to go with each of their books. For this book they advise a Barbera d’Asti. A nice idea, but perhaps not good for book reviewers if the practice spreads.