Walker, Apr 2002, 25.95, 312 pp.
The narrator, one of four research scientists to arrive at Mancanzano, Italy to study the prehistoric frescoes found in the nearby caves, writes a letter to his pregnant New York girlfriend relating events here. However, intruding on the scientific efforts is two dead naked teenagers just beneath the drawings. Their mouths are filled with the mystically medicinal grounded form of tufa that seems to be everywhere.
As they carefully work with the frescoes, the quartet finds more pictures this time of bleeding cherubim alongside dead naked people, but soon more teens die in the caves. As the narrator learns more about the local legends and history of Mancanzano, he falls into a local darkness that teeters on the insane. He adds to his perplexity when he begins a heated affair with a member of the “asylum”. When their passion cools, they squabble until she is found dead and he is accused of her homicide.
SASSO is at its best when it focuses on the irony of the lofty narrator being sucked into the mystical mayhem and insanity of the locals. When the story line tries to turn into a philosopher's stone, it bogs down as “tufa” ostentatious. James Sturz shows he has a tremendous gift especially providing a murder mystery with a touch of the mystic and plenty of the absurd, but SASSO, though entertaining and darkly humorous, tries to be too much when it turns reflectively intellectual. Still this reviewer looks forward to more works from Mr. Sturz, an obvious talent.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner