Friday, June 17, 2011

Off The Beaten Track: The Italian Connection

Our guest blogger today is Cathi Stoler, an award-winning advertising copywriter turned crime novelist. Her first mystery/suspense novel, Telling Lies, is set in Italy. Other novels in this series will include Keeping Secrets, which delves into the subject of hidden identity, and, The Hard Way, a story about the international diamond trade. She has also written several short stories including Fatal Flaw, which was published online this April at Beat To A Pulp, and Out of Luck, which will be included in the upcoming New York Sisters in Crime anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices.

When I was a child, my paternal grandparents were already quite old. They had emigrated from southern Italy at the turn of the last century and had never learned to speak English very well. Visiting them for Sunday dinner was more of a chore than a joy as it was very difficult to communicate. They would speak in Italian, and I would nod yes or shake my head no. The wrong response brought scowls and frowns and quick retorts in Italian, which I understood all too well. As you might imagine, embracing my Italian heritage was not high on my list of things to do.

When I grew older, my curiosity took over and I decided that I wanted to see Italy and understand where my family had come from and the culture they’d brought with them. I visited a few times and thought it was a truly beautiful country, but I really fell in love with it one summer when my husband, daughter, and I decided to spend a month in Tuscany.

I prepared for the trip by studying Italian for a year before and was very happy I did. Even though my Italian was just cosi cosi, so so, everyone made an effort to understand and speak to me. We rented a small house not too far from Florence in the tiny village of Iesa, which served as our home base. In just a few days, we fit into the rhythm of the village, buying our food and wine at the local alimentari, sitting on the veranda at night sipping vino or Cappuccini  and becoming friends with our neighbors, who are still good friends to this day.

It was a glorious awakening to the Tuscan region, a truly amazing place filled cypress trees, field after field of sun flowers, magnificent villas, walled towns, wineries, and winding roads that led to one gorgeous vista after another. And then of course, there was the art. Being near Florence, we visited its many museums and galleries, including the magnificent Uffizi.

My new novel, Telling Lies, opens in Florence at the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world’s great museums. There, my protagonist, Laurel Imperiole, has an encounter with an acquaintance whom she believes to have died on 9/11. The story revolves around a priceless artwork stolen by the Nazis, which is being sought by a cutthroat billionaire art collector among others, and pits Laurel and private investigator, Helen McCorkendale, against the NYPD, the FBI, and the Israeli Mossad. 

Setting my story in Florence, one of the world’s most art-rich cities, gave me a unique opportunity. I was able to incorporate its interesting sites, as well as the facts I’d learned about its culture and people, into the tale. In a way, Italy is as much a character in the novel as any of the people.

We’ve been back to Italy many times since to visit our friends and to visit other places across the country, from Naples in the south where my family came from, to Courmaier in the Alps, as well as many cities in between. In fact, a trip to Venice prompted me to learn glass blowing, which I studied for ten years and hope to include in a future novel. I guess that means I’ll just have to take another trip to Italy for some additional research.

Cathi is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Visit her at  Her novel, Telling Lies, is available on Amazon:


  1. Cathi, how wonderful that you were able to connect with your heritage. Your book sounds intriguing - I'm looking forward to reading it. Thanks for blogging with us today!

  2. Hi Heidi,
    Thanks for the comment. I hope that you enjoy reading Telling Lies.

  3. This book does sound fascinating! (Just bought a copy for my Kindle.) And the research trips sound great too. Did you reconnect with your Italian relatives? Could be material for yet another book. :)

  4. Cathi, what a lovely story. You hooked me right away on the book (just downloaded the Kindle version). It has all the things I love to read.

  5. I grew up in a European house and spoke Russian fluently. My grandmother, mother, and father are deceased. I really miss speaking the language. I do on occasion use a Russian word out the blue and sometimes dream in Russian. My grandmother likewise did not speak English but she understood a lot. Her favorite TV shows were All IN THE FAMILY (she loved Edith and Archie Bunker, THE SONNNY AND CHER SHOW,and wrestling and boxing (would you believe it). I miss them terribly! I just returned from Istanbul, Turkey for research for my book and to reconnect with "Constantinople" the seat of Orthodoxy. My father was a Russian Orthodox priest and I grew up around Byzantine art. Therefore my trip to Istanbul(Constantinople) was a voyage dear to my heart.

  6. Hi,
    None of my relatives are alive at this point, or if they are I don't know where they would be. Thanks for picking up the book. Hope you enjoy it.