Saturday, July 16, 2016

G. X. Chen Brings Book Three of The Back Bay Investigation Series, Death Comes to Lake Como
Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Milano, inside of which is the Last Supper.

The painting, which measures 15’ x 29’, is a mural, not a fresco, as it was painted on a dry wall and not on wet plaster. Because of the method and materials used by Da Vinci the painting was very fragile. As early as 1517 it was already beginning to deteriorate, and several restoration attempts were made over the centuries. During WWII a bomb greatly damaged the refectory. The painting, which had been covered with panels and sandbags in a preemptive measure, survived, although it did incur further damage. 
The major restorative efforts took place from 1978 to 1999. The refectory was rebuilt, not in its original style, but as a sealed, climate-controlled environment. Visitors enter in small groups of no more than 25, pass through a humidity controlling chamber before entering, and are allowed only 15 minutes inside to view the painting. There are no other artworks inside, and there is no printed information inside about the mural. One is there only to view, and then one exits...

E-mail from Fang Chen to Ann Lee
Jane and I landed in Milan around noon yesterday. She was so tired she went straight to bed. I, however, went sightseeing--I really can't sleep during the day no matter how tired I am. The last time I was in Milan, I didn't get to see the Last Supper because the refectory that housed the famous painting had been closed for restoration, and so I was eager to pay a visit this time around.
The refectory turned museum reopened in 1999 after more than twenty years of overhaul and renovation, so it's natural that the tickets are being sold weeks even months in advance. You can imagine how disappointed I was when I learned there weren't any tickets available. Instead of leaving, however, I planted myself in front of the clerk, a middle-aged woman, pleading and begging until she gave in and assigned me one of the evening slots. I wasn't going to leave without seeing the painting, one of the treasures of Milan.
The Last Supper, painted on one side of the walls of an ancient convent, is astoundingly beautiful--even if it has lost more than 80 percent of its original colors due to wear-and tear over the past centuries, I can only imagine what a splendid artwork it must've been Leonardo da Vinci first painted it. The fact that he treated the wall as the canvas in order to obtain the perfect images--"dry paint" as it's called, using the same method as if painted on a canvas--allowed him to make the amendments easier but also made the painting extremely difficult to preserve. I bet he didn't expect five hundred years later future generations would line up every day to see him work...
While waiting for my turn to see the Last Supper, I wandered through the Parco Sempione, a delightful part that's bigger than Boston Common and Public Garden combined, to see the famous Duomo di Milano, one of the largest and most striking cathedrals in the world...

Death Comes to Lake Como:
Back Bay Investigation Series

By G. X. Chen

Milan? Yes! Fang Chen, a partner in Back Bay Investigations has gotten married, and the third book opens up on a series of emails between Ann Lee, the other investigator, and the happy couple! The key thing you must realize about this series is that it is unique... The series moves back and forth between the U.S. and China, mostly, but, in this case, Italy,  because of the honeymoon. Readers should be prepared to learn about the story via the communication necessary to solve mysteries that require investigation overseas. 

I have to share a little tidbit that I enjoyed about the happy couple...You see, whenever Fang Chen writes to his friend, he refers to his wife as Jane, her name... But whenever Jane writes to Ann Lee, she always referred to Fang as "her husband." I must admit it was very noticeable to me and I wondered whether this was cultural or whether Jane was so in love with Fang that she enjoyed constantly referring to him as "her husband..." LOL. What do you think? Shall we ask the author to respond???

The body they fished out of the lake
turned out to be the missing nurse. My
friend, the concierge, told me as soon as
we came back from Villa Carlotta, as
knew I was interested in the case as much
as he was. We became almost like a pair
of conspirators because we didn't believe
it was an accident, even though, hotel
management tried to pin it down as
accidental. There's no possible way the
nurse could have drowned...The
promenade around the lake is well
structured and maintained with protective
wrought iron railing... if it wasn't an
accident, was it foul play?
It was during breakfast one morning when Jane and Fang learned about an elderly American tourist reporting that her nurse had not arrived. Later they learned that she was missing... They were again right there when police cars whirled by and they learned there had been an accident. Of course, Fang immediately got involved, pushing himself through the crowd to see what actually was happening. Sadly, they learned that the body was indeed the nurse... 

Coincidence often plays an important part in mystery murders and this was certainly proven as the next murder turned out to be Ann Lee's neighbor back in America! What this means to readers is Ann Lee is working with the police in America, while Fang is investigating and reporting back, even traveling to China for part of the time. This particular mystery reveals an early connection that I and many readers will probably pick up immediately. That does not, however, detract from the enjoyment of the actual step-by-step merge of the various pieces of the puzzle! However, I thought it best not to get into that so as to not divulge too much of the story.

We went back to the hotel and had a quick bite at the bar [after the body had been taken away]. Then we went next door to visit Villa Carlotta, the wedding gift to the namesake b her mother, a German princess. You wouldn't believe how beautiful its grounds are! The villa itself was built in accordance with the traditional Lombard architecture of the seventeenth century, but the grounds were brilliantly designed, mixing botanic gardens with simply amazing orchards. It has sweeping lake views, scenic pathways, exotic plants and delightful flowers. We followed the narrow pathways up and down the hills, walking blissfully without even noticing how fast the time was slipping by...

In fact, I would say that it was the description settings that most spoke to me in this book and I thoroughly enjoyed all the travel that the author took us on to many exotic places.

Clues in solving the mystery leads Fang Chen looking all the way back to the time of the Cultural Revolution, finding people who lived during that time and seeking the connection that had to be proven before any legal action could be taken...

And then there was the family wedding for Jane and Fang when they went to Jane's home...
Email from Fang Chen to Ann Lee. The jetlang wasn't too bad this time around, to my great relief, either because my body has gotten used to the long-distance travel or because of the excitement at Jane's family home. You won't believe what is going on! Remember Jane's old bedroom? It used to be tastefully furnished but now her mother has turned it into a traditional wedding room--all the bedding and the curtains are bright red...which drives me crazy because the color screams bloody murder to me...
Email from Jane Tian to Ann Lee. My husband left this morning for Shanghai. He couldn't wait to start the journey since he's been utterly overwhelmed by the wedding ceremony and banquet. He's been so ill at east that my mom finally took pity on him and agreed he didn't have to change into the traditional outfit for the groom--a little black hat and a red cheongsam. He wore a tuxedo throughout the ordeal and looked absolutely classy.
I, on the other hand, acted like a wooden doll, moving around the banquet hall in my floor-length traditional red gown greeting everyone according to my mom's instructions since she organized the entire affair with such gusto... There was also a tea ceremony when my husband and I had to serve tea to each member of the older generation--and in return collected hundreds of red envelopes filled with cash. I wish you could've seen the look on my husband's face during the ceremony! I felt so bad that I basically pulled him aside so I could handle the small talks with the villagers. To his credit, he never complained--which I appreciated very much. I can honestly say most of the villagers haven't seen such a foreign=like Chinese in their lives so they were very curious about the husband I've acquired in the US...

Once you get into the unusual storytelling via email conversations among the three lead characters, I think you will enjoy this latest book by G. X. Chen just as much as I did. Do check it out! It's intriguing, has a bit of Historical interest that triggers movement in the case, and proves once again that Back Bay Investigations is a international force to watch. Cool!


G.X. Chen, author of the Back Bay Investigation mystery series and others novels, is a freelance writer and a graduate of Fudan University and University of New Mexico. She has taught literature at Fudan as well as the Shanghai Foreign Language Institute. A world traveler and an amateur photographer, she lives in the beautiful city of Boston with husband, Steve.

Note: I hope my wedding video is appropriate since I had only my judgment while reviewing. Let me know if anybody notices a problem...

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