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Sunday, February 29, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Barbara Lloyd McMichael
In his new novel, "A Very Private Gentleman," acclaimed author Martin Booth returns to the loner-protagonist type he has so successfully characterized in past books.
The story is narrated by a man who has come to an Italian mountain village for a stay of some length. The locals call him Signor Farfalla, Mr. Butterfly, due to his apparent work as an artist who travels the world over to paint the lovely insects.
The narrator doesn't attempt to disabuse the villagers of their assumption, but readers of the book soon learn that his painting is a cover for his real work as an expert gunsmith with an underground clientele. Farfalla's handcrafted firearms have been used in some of the most notorious assassinations of the past few decades.
His new nickname suits him in an unintended way, for in his business the narrator has had to become a master of metamorphosis.
But when Farfalla discovers he is being stalked, his dreams of an anonymous retirement are put into jeopardy, as well as his ability to complete this last assignment.
With this book, Booth sets an interesting triple task for himself. It is a psychological suspense thriller, yet it is invested with the life-and-death gravitas more typically found in a conventional novel. It also contains such a finely honed appreciation for the Italian culture that it could be construed as a travelogue.
The whodunit aspect was obvious before half the book is over, but the author still has some surprises up his sleeve, and the languid pace picks up considerably toward the end.
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