Book Description for Turning to Stone (Roma Series Book #4):
Alabaster Black aka Bianca Nerini returns as an investigation into a public official’s assassination pits Bianca and her friends against a backdrop of financial speculation, female assassins on motorcycles, and the Camorra—the most ruthless of Italian organized crime gangs—in Gabriel Valjan’s TURNING TO STONE, the fourth book of the highly praised Roma series.
En route to a secret meeting, Aldo Giurlani—the regional commissioner of Lombardy in northern Italy and a specialist on organized crime—is assassinated in the middle of a public square.
More mysterious is the package sent to Giurlani’s hand-picked team of five top investigators within the Guardia di Finanza (GdF), the Italian law enforcement agency that investigates illegal financial transactions, from money laundering to drug trafficking. Within the package are five copies of a book entitled Man of Smoke written by Aldo Palazzeschi.
Then there is Bianca’s tenuous online contact with a mysterious online contact known as Loki, who delivers a cryptic message to her, takes on a new twist with the appearance of a brilliant young obsessive-compulsive man who joins her team.
Complicating matters even further, old enemies and, more problematically, Alabaster’s former employer—Rendition, a murky covert U.S. government agency that does more than just investigate financial crimes—still have grudges to bear against her.
As new mysteries unfold, Bianca’s group quickly discovers that Naples might just be the most dangerous city in Italy.
Readers looking for a suspenseful thriller with mysterious twists and turns abounding will love Gabriel Valjan’s TURNING TO STONE.
For those who are reading the previous books in the series, here are the book descriptions:
ROMA, UNDERGROUND (Book #1)
Savvy forensic accountant Alabaster Black is hiding in Rome from her former employer, covert U.S. organization “Rendition.” While there under an assumed name she meets Dante, an investigator, erstwhile explorer and member of the Roma Underground, a band of amateur archaeologists who map the city beneath Rome. With Italian artifacts disappearing at an alarming rate, Alabaster and Dante search for answers and create a trap for the thieves. Through a mysterious online contact Alabaster learns she is being followed, and with her safety at risk she is forced to rethink her chosen alliances and discover hidden truths about herself.
“A provocative thriller with a riveting and surprising plot.”
—M.J. Rose, International bestseller
“...the strong, captivating heroine and an allure of conspiracy and organized crime make this novel an undoubted success.”
—Kirkus Book Reviews
“Conspiracy, double identities, car chases and espionage, all against the backdrop of magical Rome, with its great food and marvelous art history, make this an entertaining, intriguing read.”
—Blogcritics Book Reviews in Brief
WASP’S NEST (Book #2)
In the highly anticipated sequel to Roma, Underground, Bianca returns to the U.S. for her former employer, the covert organization Rendition, to investigate Cyril Sargent and Nasonia Pharmaceutical. Although ambivalent about the assignment and uneasy about her online “friend,” Loki, she is enticed into researching what Sargent is doing with insect genetics that might upset the world of cancer research and treatment. Old friends Farrugia and Gennaro uncover a twisted conspiracy from their past and join Bianca in Boston where they will experience conflicted loyalties, question allies, and confront uncertain enemies, as they’re drawn into the wasp’s nest.
“Again, Valjan successfully conflates multiple sophisticated narratives that bring the past and present together, which the archaeological theme of the last novel also helps accomplish . . . Black is back and just as entertaining as ever.”
—Kirkus Book Reviews
“…a compelling reading, action-packed and with intriguing characters. The plot had plenty of twists and turns, some surprising secrets, and it kept me on the edge of my seat, guessing until the very end.”
—The Book Junkie
THREADING THE NEEDLE (Book #3)
Milan. Bianca’s curiosity gets a young university student murdered, but not before he gives her a file that details a secret weapon under development with defense contractor Adastra. Guilt may drive her to find justice for the slain Charlie Brooks, but she is warned by the mysterious Loki to stay away from this case that runs deep with conspiracy. Bianca must find a way to uncover government secrets and corporate alliances without returning Italy to one of its darkest hours, the decades of daily terrorism known as the “Years of Lead.”
“It is even more to Gabriel Valjan’s credit that with Threading the Needle he, as an American, was nonetheless capable of unusual insight into the Misteri Italiani, the Italian Mysteries, without taking any prejudicial standpoint, one way or the other, or putting the blame on anyone, but rather inviting readers to judge for themselves.”
—Claudio Ferrara, Italian journalist and translator
“But after the first few pages, I knew I was committed to the end of the book ... and would be reading the two earlier books…Characters, plot, ideas, background: In Threading the Needle, Valjan weaves it all into an international crime novel worth the read.”
—Beth Kannell of Kingdom Books, a specialty mystery bookshop in northeastern Vermont.
Buy the books here: Amazon
Gabriel Valjan lives in New England, but has traveled extensively, receiving his undergraduate education in California and completing graduate school in England. Ronan Bennett short-listed him for the 2010 Fish Short Story Prize for his Boston noir, Back in the Day. His short stories and poetry have appeared in literary journals and online magazines.
To Fang or Defang Speech
I had penmanship in grade school. Above the chalkboards on a green airstrip the Palmer Method demonstrated the proper sequence of strokes for upper and lowercase letters. The F always looked like a pelican to me. I checked online and it seems that teaching children cursive is now redundant because we have computers. Talk about slaves to the machine. The funny thing is that as kids in the last century we all knew that penmanship class was the stepping-stone to that day when we would appease our dark, rebellious hearts with a decisive and definitive scrawl on the page. Poets we were not, but our signature was our “barbaric yawp.” It was Style writ large with a capital S that sang whichever way above or below the line.
Writing has rules before you find your Voice or have a Style. Emulate the titans, take apart what they did and how they did it, and then “Make it new.” Language remains the medium, Syntax, the ordering of chaos, and Punctuation, the gift of scribes. A comma meant something, as did a semicolon and colon, and quotation marks said that your creatures of imagination were alive, gifted with speech. Then, I noticed something rather weird has happened in contemporary fiction: lines of speech have been defanged; they lacked quotation marks.
I understand that the universe moves to entropy. I understand change is an immutable law and that each tribe has their way of doing things. Conventions change. Once upon a time em dashes marked off snatches of speech. You’ll find them afoot throughout Joyce’s Ulysses, for example. Emily Dickinson is the Maestra of the Dash in poetry. The em dash is the product of two hyphens joined in carnal knowledge. If you’d like a modernized analogy: think of the em dash as a selfie stick between the margin and speech. Some foreign writers such as Manuel Puig used the convention. The em dash is now used to signal an interruption, while ellipses indicate a voice trailing off. Speaking of foreigners –
For quoted speech, Europeans will use one of two types of duck-feet, the outward-facing feet « … » or the pigeon-toed kind »…«. The Germans may use duck-feet or a subscripted quotation mark for open quote and superscripted mark for the close „…“ Where we use double quotes for direct speech and single quotes for indirect speech, the British do the opposite, with single quotes for direct speech and double for reported speech. In Romance languages, the speaker is often known through the verb ending. In English, writers have to insert a speaker attribute. Said is the best attribute, but writers, fearing repetition, will write create howlers such as “she snarled,” “he chortled,” and “she scoffed.” These are all physically impossible acts and examples of bad writing. Whether the punctuation goes inside or outside the quotation mark is like bellybuttons. Americans are outies and the Brits are innies.
I mention speaker attributes for a reason. Without quotation marks there is that danger of not knowing who is speaking. I stick with “said” and rarely use italics for emphasis because I believe that the reader should approach dialogue like an actor and interpret intonation and tone. There are writers who have not used quotation marks and do it well. Meghan Mayhew Bergman’s Birds of a Lesser Paradise and Almost Famous Women are plucked clean of quotation marks and the reader is not disoriented. Ditto for William Gay’s I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down and Lewis Nordan’s Sugar Among The Freaks. Michelle Huneven’s Blame is another example. To fill out the ranks of those who have defanged speech with success: E.L. Doctorow, Nadine Gordimer, Kate Grenville, and William Gaddis. Raymond Carver is an occasional reprobate. In the majority of cases, an attribute was nestled somewhere, but what worked for this reader may not work for another. Caveat lector!
Whether naked speech is an MFA-workshop trend, or some aesthetic statement that quotation marks sully the canvas of the white page, I don’t know. Must be, because Cormac McCarthy told Oprah Winfrey that he preferred not to “block the page up with weird little marks. If you write properly, you shouldn’t have to punctuate.” An aside: both McCarthy and Vonnegut dislike semicolons. McCarthy must know better because he has a Pulitzer and a National Book Award, amongst other prizes, and I have none.
Unmarked speech does not work most of the time. I’ll make way for José Saramago’s because a translator is involved and I don’t read Portuguese. As for Cormac McCarthy, he gave us a sprinkling of attributes in All The Pretty Horses, got stingy with them in Blood Meridian and evicted them in The Road. The most egregious example I know of a potentially great story undermined by the author’s decision to not use quotation marks is Bob Shacochis’ The Woman Who Lost Her Soul. The ‘woman’ of the title is dead from the start and she had many aliases, which are as difficult to keep track of as to who is speaking to whom. Unreliable narrators are one thing, but a voice and a reader in the dark isn’t mystery; it’s as bad as the purported betrayal that is the book’s subject. I latched onto the names Burnette and Dottie until I gave up. Making reading difficult is not Literature.
“Minimalist, maximalist, I ask thee literary gods and goddesses for my pairs of duck-feet, my fangs, single or doubled, but make known to me the song, the singer of words.”
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