Paul Dasilva has written an intricate detective story, somewhat redolent of the Agatha Christie mould. In The Martigny Effect, those in the know have come from all over the world in the hope of getting their hands on some mysterious Roman artefacts – legally or otherwise.
Dasilva is clearly at home in Europe and Switzerland. He also has an eye for more modern artistic endeavours than the ones the dig hopes to uncover. I enjoyed his description of The Pierre Ginadda Fondation, a well-known cultural centre with its own concert hall and a “veteran car collection of Benz, Alfa, Bugatti and Rolls Royce” models.
Add to this an informative taste for comfortable four star hotels, good food and wine; and a gift for somewhat quirky characters, including a red-haired beauty in black leather and stilettos who masterminds a number of slightly dubious activities.
Dasilva uses his knowledge of small town cul-de-sacs adjunct hidden mountainous areas to paint scenes with a film-maker’s sense of colour and drama. But underlying the physical landscape is a carefully crafted plot involving – as the back cover puts it – ‘love, reason and determination against a backdrop of corruption, duplicity, kidnap, drugs and murder’.
At the outset of the book, the hero, Greg Marshall, wakes with something between a nervous breakdown and a massive hangover: the result of his new girlfriend, Candice Beaumann’s sudden disappearance from Martigny during a walk to work.
Greg can’t believe Candice walked out on him; not when they were becoming so close and, when he recovers his senses, begins to observe what’s going on at the dig and with those who knew Candice.
This amateur detective – a knight hopping around a cluttered chess board – uncovers a number of original twists and turns to the plot, which, in combination, provide a trail as challenging to the everyday mind as a drive via one of those precipitous Alpine mountain passes between Italy and Switzerland.
Adding to the mix are animal activists of different persuasions; and several people with a gift at disguising themselves, not least the professor in charge of the archaeological dig, and a bed-hopping crook from New York hawking dubious stem cell cures for cancer.
If one considers that Paul Dasilva was a musician in the ‘golden age’ of the 60s and 70s, then his somewhat late arrival in writing – writing touched with a certain formality – calls to mind journalists of more gentlemanly sensitivity than some uncultured members of the present press corps.
Although the first few chapters were a tad formal as they wove their slow way around the beginner’s slopes of the detective story, the sun was shining onto my couch and… what the heck? I was soon rewarded for digging deeper into The Martigny Effect.
Quite suddenly, the story blossomed and I found myself with a keen interest in both the characters and trails that led in all directions but the one last imagined. Additionally, the syntax flowed more naturally.
Slow speech, it turned out, was a technique to indicate Gregg’s state of mind; not a fault. As the story moved on, Paul Dasilva’s natural command of language took charge of the story and drove it expeditiously to its conclusion.
The main characters developed in a nicely balanced way – rare enough in modern stories – with the Chief Inspector, in particular, a familiar and increasingly attractive central point in his own right. He got his girl; Greg got his girl back; and there was, in the end, only one fatality.
I recommend The Martigny Effect as a highly unusual cross of travel writing and detective work, with more romantic nuances than a summer day’s day.