The Dante Game by Jane Langton
Giovanni Zibo, aka Professor Zee, and Lucretia Van Ott have started the American School of Florentine Studies in Florence, Italy. It is a school of art, classics, and history for American students to come to Italy for a special studies program. They have leased a shabby, historical villa in the heart of Florence. They have teachers and students coming from the United States for their first class. It is a shaky beginning, with just enough students to make it worth their while. Homer Kelly is asked to teach a class on contemporary Italian literature. He is reluctant because he would have to read the books quickly to be a step ahead of his students. But the draw of Italy and the urgings of his wife convince him to go.
This is the year the Pope announces an Anno Sacro Anti-droga, a Holy Year Against Drugs. To everyone’s surprise, the campaign is a success. Many young drug users kick the habit. Many more young people vow to stay drug-free. Soon the newly aware flock to the Vatican to show their support for the program. The church is gratified. The drug dealers are not.
The American School of Florentine Studies starts up with an unusual group of students – some young college age, a few older, a local young man, and a striking beauty. The beautiful woman does what she can to play down her classic looks, but fails. The males in the class are drawn to her. The women are jealous of her. She turns the men away and is friendly and giving to the women, doing her best to fit in.
School is starting to become cohesive when two people are murdered on the school grounds. It appears to be from a husband’s jealous rage over his wife and her lover. Homer Kelly has his doubts, though. The school secretary disappeared at the same time the couple was found. There has been a strange, intense man hanging around. Something isn’t right. But he doesn’t know enough to make any guesses or assumptions.
Perhaps I’ve been reading too many edge-of-the-seat thrillers recently, but I found The Dante Game slow. The characters stayed two-dimensional, including Homer Kelly, the protagonist of Langton’s series. The beauty of Florence is in the book, but I never felt it. Fortunately the book is fairly short and easy to read. It was included in one of my reading groups, so I didn’t want to put it off or lay it aside. But if you have a choice of books, you can save this one. If it’s the only thing you have, you’ll have some diversion with it.
The Dante Game has ink illustrations sprinkled throughout that were drawn by the author. Each chapter includes quotes from Dante’s Inferno, and the history of Florence is drawn together with Dante’s work.