Author Gabriel Valjan dedicates this first entry of the Roma series to Andrea Camilleri and Warren Larivee. The novel itself follows a forensic accountant named Alabaster Black, who goes by the alias Bianca, who hides in Rome from her former workplace, an American organization named Rendition. During her stay, she meets an investigator named Dante, who is a member of the titular Roma Underground, archaeologists seeking to map the city’s underworld. National artifacts begin to disappear at a quick pace, with the two seeking answers, and Alabaster learning from an online contact that someone is following her, making her reconsider her alliances.
Dante is one of the only people to whom Alabaster gives her contact information, meeting him for lunch, with the book itself full of Roman history, and revealing that the protagonist held various occupations. There’s plenty of helpful description about Rome and its various highlights, with its streets being far more restrictive than those in America, although she definitely prefers the city to her experience in Lucerne, Switzerland. She eventually begins keeping track of possible surveillance of her apartment, and encounters several characters such as the Italians Gennaro and Alessandro.
The ending of the novel feels somewhat abrupt, although it would spawn a sequel, Wasp’s Nest, which takes Alabaster back to America. The writer at the end acknowledges many individuals that helped him along the way, such as his friends and colleagues at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, indicating that he wrote the story while undergoing cancer treatment, and that it’s an extended version of a short story called “Alabaster.” Overall, this is an engaging thriller that history enthusiasts, given the various factoids throughout the text, will certainly appreciate, and while there are parts that could have been better, this reviewer would very much recommend it.
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.