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Palace of the Drowned by Christine Mangan

When I read that Palace of the Drowned was set in Venice, Italy, off-season, and reminiscent of the novels of Patricia Highsmith, in that the prose is lush, the plot suspenseful in a kind of nagging, slow-burn way, I thought it sounded like my cup of proverbial tea. I had not read author Christine Mangan's debut novel, Tangerine, but I'm very aware of it, given that the book was quite popular at the time of its release. I enjoy richly developed settings and narratives that unfold in mysterious ways, and even though I predicted the outcome about three-quarters of the way through, Palace of the Drowned fit that bill.

Mangan sets the scene in 1966. British novelist Frankie Croy, a complex and anxious person, has been distressed about an anonymous review and a tabloid scandal related to her latest book. She is struggling to write her next. In hopes that a vacation/writing retreat will do her good, she travels to Venice to stay at her friend Jack’s vacant palazzo. Trouble is, the place seems to be haunted--or are the unsettling events figments of Frankie's imagination?

Then a mysterious young woman shows up. Gilly Larson, an aspiring writer and apparent super-fan of Frankie's work, wins Frankie over as a reluctant friend, then begs Frankie to be a mentor, too. After some resistance, Frankie agrees. Things are going well until the Great Flood of Venice occurs, leaving the city under nearly six feet of water. Flooded homes, no power, gas, or working phones up the stakes, and the tension, like the water, rises from there.

If you, too, like historical novels set in evocative, and somewhat spooky, environments, and characters who are not what they seem, then you might want to check out Palace of the Drowned by Christine Mangan.