Thursday, January 25, 2018

#19 - The Mystery of Villa Sineste by Walter Livingston (1931)

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About this edition: This edition contains a teaser of the first chapter of the next edition (The Hunterstone Outrage by Seldon Truss).

About the author: Walter Livingston is also the author of The Mystery of Burnleigh Manor, #5 in the Mystery League series.

Principal characters:

  • Jack Winant, American architect
  • Timothy Delancey, Irish, professional photographer
  • Vincenza di Ponari, surgeon, owner of Villa Sineste
  • ---- di Ponari, his wife
  • Elaine di Ponari, his stepdaughter
  • Guiseppe, his assistant/butler


Locale: Italy

Synopsis:

American architect Jack Winant is on a commission to document and disassemble an Italian villa and relocate it to the US. Irish photographer Timothy Delancey is along to photograph the villa for the construction documentation. 

On the flight to the villa (they never get there), the plane develops engine trouble and has a hard landing on the grounds of the legendary Villa Seneste. The two pilots are badly hurt, Winant and Delancey receive minor injuries. Di Ponari, a retired surgeon, brings the pilots to a separate building in the woods, called his 'sanitorium' for treatment. Winant and Delancey, are brought into the villa to recover for a day or two.

The locals avoid the place, legend has it that Villa Seneste has a bedroom in which all its occupants die mysterious deaths. 

Di Ponari's wife and stepdaughter, Elaine, reside in the villa also; and appear to be held captive. The wife is very ill, confined to bed, and dies quietly. 

Di Ponari reports the two pilots have died from their injuries; and defeats attempts by Winant and Delancey to contact outsiders for help.

Winant and Delancey seek to rescue Elaine, and find out what is going on in the 'sanitorium'. Di Ponari is working on a gruesome secret project there.

Review:

The book starts out strong and constructs a solid mystery despite having so few characters. However, after a while some help arrives from the outside - the Italian army (!), along with airplanes and trucks - definitely out of scale to the problem - and what is the problem anyway? A girl locked in her room, in no immediate danger. It goes downhill from there. The story turns into an Italian version of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" with grotesque medical experiments staggering back from the dead. 


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