Thursday, October 6, 2016

Michelangelo's Ghost (A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery #4)

Author:  Gigi Pandian
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback; Audio CD; Ebook
ISBN #: 9781635110722; 9781635110692; 9781515951469
Henery Press
288 Pages
$28.83; $15.95; $29.99; $6.99 Amazon
October 4, 2016

Five Stars

A lost work of art linking India to the Italian Renaissance.  A killer hiding behind a centuries-old ghost story.  And a hidden treasure in Italy's macabre sculpture garden known as the Park of Monsters...When Jaya's old professor dies under eerie circumstances shortly after discovering manuscripts that point to a treasure in Italy's Park of Monsters, Jaya and her brother pick up the trail.  From San Francisco the heart of Italy, Jaya is haunted by the a ghost story inexorably linked to the masterpieces of a long-dead artist and the deeds of a modern-day murderer.  Untrustworthy colleagues, disappearing boyfriends, and old enemies - who can Jaya trust when the ghost wails?


History professor Jaya Jones is preparing for finals week at university when she receives a cryptic email from her ex-mentor, Professor Lilith Vine.  Lilith, it seems, isn't highly thought of in the academic world - she had an early historical discovery when she was in her twenties and has been chasing the ghost ever since trying to recreate that notoriety - but it backfired when she continued to seek out fame and glory; two things that never again materialized in her career.  When she left the university for a smaller one, she wanted Jaya to go with her, but Jaya listened to other faculty and turned her down, leaving her feeling guilty about the encounter.  Now, though, she believes the least she can do is visit Lilith and find out what all the secrecy is about.

When she arrives at Lilith's home, she finds nothing much has changed - Lilith, you see, is a functioning alcoholic, and Jaya is skeptical about the story she's telling her regarding a Renaissance painter's hidden artwork - until she sees the sketchbooks.  Sketchbooks from the 16th century, written in the hand of Lazzaro Allegri, an artist who may have been Michelangelo's protege.  Lilith, who is not in good health, traveled to Italy to discover more information and has passed what she has learned onto Jaya, in hopes that she will continue to find the truth:  that Lazzaro traveled from Italy to India and applied Renaissance painting techniques to Indian subjects.  What Lilith wants her to do is travel to Italy and try to find Lazzaro's hidden studio, and hopefully what remains of his artwork.

Jaya, of course, agrees to go once she sees the sketchbooks and other information Lilith has gathered.  But she's not going alone...her brother Mahilan "Fish", has arrived in San Francisco to visit her with his new girlfriend Ava in tow, and they've decided to take the vacation with her.  Their destination is Bomarzo, Italy, to the Park of Monsters, where the studio is supposedly hidden.  The Park of Monsters (very real) was created by an Italian in honor of his late wife (although I don't believe I'd want such an 'honor' created for me) and from what Lilith has already discovered, is where the studio is hidden.

But finding the treasure - if it exists - isn't going to be easy.  The park has been transformed into an an amusement park of sorts, so getting into it after hours might be tricky.  Then there's the legend of the ghost that haunts the grounds - when it rains, you can hear the wails of an Italian woman who mourns the loss of her dead husband; so much so that the locals believe the history and refuse to go anywhere near where the ghost walks.  But when Jaya, Mahilan and Ava hear the wails themselves, they're not so sure the legend isn't true.

It also doesn't help that Jaya hasn't been able to reach Lane and let him know where she is, and she discovers there's a fourth sketchbook, but it too has disappeared.  With two disappearances, the appearance of an elusive thief and a ghost warning them away from the area, Jaya still remains determined to find the hidden studio.  But when the stakes are raised and it seems that there's a killer on the loose, a killer who might have murdered Lilith Vine and now be after Jaya, just how far will she be willing to go to find an elusive treasure?

There are a couple of subplots woven into the tale:  we learn a little more about Mahilan throughout the story, some of which is quite amusing; his new relationship with Ava, who could be "the one" (but Jaya is still on the fence regarding this); Jaya's own relationship with the elusive Lane Peters, whom she obviously adores but isn't sure if they have a future, and the 'Hindi Houdini' Sanjay, Jaya's best friend (who obviously adores her).  Somewhere in this group I've mentioned there is a secret that could bode for either good or bad in the long run...

Ms. Pandian has once again given us a fascinating tale.  Michelangelo's Ghost is full of adventure and intrigue, carrying us to the small town of Bomarzo in central Italy, to the fantastical Park of Monsters and blended it with a fictional story of a wailing ghost that haunts the park and lost art; it is masterful and compelling and pure delight to read.  Her characters are fleshed out and highly believable, her mixture of historical fact and fiction is superb, and, as in all good mysteries, the further we get into the tale, the more the suspense grows.  As always, Ms. Pandian does not disappoint; she is a writer who knows her craft well and is able to spin a tale that pulls one in immediately and keeps them entertained throughout.

When we reach the end of the tale, everything falls into place, as well it should.  There was indeed a murderer, and not one that would have been suspected under any circumstances, giving us a satisfying end to a highly realistic mystery.  Highly recommended.

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