Book review: The Girl with the Painted Face by Gabrielle Kimm

Adventure, romance, mystery and the glorious anarchy of 16th century Italy… Gabrielle Kimm’s new novel is a spellbinding box of delights.

By Pam Norfolk
Wednesday, 18th December 2013, 9:00 am
The Girl with the Painted Face by Gabrielle Kimm
The Girl with the Painted Face by Gabrielle Kimm

Kimm has made sultry, sun-drenched Italy her seductive canvas for a series of historical novels including His Last Duchess, which brought to life the ill-fated wife of the notorious Duke of Ferrara, and the sizzling follow-up The Courtesan’s Lover.

Here she whisks us away to the bustling northern city of Bologna for an all-action adventure starring a homeless seamstress who becomes a talented actress with a charismatic travelling troupe.

Brimming with overflowing taverns, colourful shop fronts, laden market stalls and a saucy cast of cosmopolitan Bolognese characters, the city streets spring to colourful life in an atmospheric tale with a dark edge of dangerous realism.

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Life in Modena, Italy, in 1583 is tough for trainee seamstress Sofia Genotti and things get even tougher when she is falsely accused of theft by a client and forced to go on the run.

Penniless, starving and desperate to avoid the perils of prostitution, the naïve seventeen-year-old girl makes her way to Bologna and is rescued by apothecary Niccolo Zanetti who takes her under his wing.

Niccolo introduces her to his good friends the Corraggiosi, a troupe of travelling actors who take a shine to the girl and ask her to join them as costume mistress. But within weeks she is learning to act and proving her stage talents.

Acting also brings her closer to handsome Beppe Bianchi, the young man with whom she is developing a passionate relationship, but she has also caught the eye of another actor, the shadowy, moody Angelo da Bagnacavallo.

After a much acclaimed performance at a local aristocrat’s castle, Sofia is accosted by the owner Sebastiano da Correggio and the following morning he is found dead.

With Sofia standing accused of his murder, it becomes imperative to unearth da Correggio’s dangerous secret and a tale of blackmail, violence and sexual jealousies to discover the true killer...

If 16th century Italy is Kimm’s passion then delivering the drama of her stories with thrilling authenticity and vivacious artistry is her trusty trademark.

In The Girl with the Painted Face, she serves up a visual treat as she choreographs her eclectic players’ shows in amazing detail and paints a rich and memorable portrait of both Sofia and her world.

A gripping, vibrant and entertaining story…

(Sphere, paperback, £6.99)