Ben Pastor and Keats's flower girl

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Italian version

Rome, it is Keats’s last months of life. A violent murder affects the poet’s mood, who, connected to the victim by a close friendship, tries to tracked the unknown murderer

It’s January 1821 in Rome. Through ups and downs of his disease, Keats spends a lot of time at the window of his room that shows a view of the stairs of piazza di Spagna. Ben Pastor starts from this view to create her historical thriller.  On the stairs of piazza di Spagna, a beautiful florist sells her flowers. Every day Keats admires her beauty and they get to like each other.Marietta, which is her name, sometimes visits Keats, gives him a flower and then goes away. Probably, she falls in love with the young English gentleman, who doesn’t make scorns of her shy niceties.

For a whole day, Marietta disappears. Her place on the stairs is empty and Keats becomes anxious. He feels that something is not going wrong, so he and his friend Severn start to look for her. Since  the day before, nobody has noticed Marietta and, nobody has seen her, and sadly the day after the Tiber gives back her dead body: the verdict is suicide. Keats is upset and his health receives another strong blow. But he is not convinced anyway. Marietta was too much a sunny girl to kill herself, she loved life very much and so it couldn’t have been a suicide. And his intuition proves  him right. Keats  is a good doctor and when he goes to examine the body, he notices unmistakable signs of murder. The story is as engaging as all of Ben Pastor’s stories.

Ben Pastor was born in Rome and she moved to the on United States to teach History and Social Sciences in Ohio, Illinois and Vermont University. In addition to Lumien, Liar Moon, Master of One Hundred Bones, Tin Sky, The Road to Ithacaand Kaputt Mundi (the cycles of soldier-detective Martin Bora, published in Italy by Sellerio), she wrote Central European detective storiessuch as Brink Tales and The Wind Rose Room (Mondadori), The Fire Waker, The Water Thief, The Stone Virgins and The Cave of Wind (Frassinelli-Sperling & Kupfer). Her books are published not only in Italy but also in the United States, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, France, Holland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Brazil.

Those who love John Keats, his personality and his life, can appreciate Keats’s description made by Ben Pastor through the pen of his friend Severn.  Keats’s character, sad but at the same time determined, shines through all the pages of the story; his medical capabilities are brought to our mind when Keats examines Marietta’s body. The cold and damp room, recalls the hard times that the two friends suffered  near the warmth of the fireplace (the original is shown in Keats-Shelley House in Piazza di Spagna); the English cemetery where Marietta was buried, brings to our mind Keats’s and Severn’s tomb in the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome.

Ben Pastor’s detective story unravels through the streets and churches of Rome that are described by Severn with lovable enthusiasm as only an artist can do (and an archaeologist as Ben Pastor!).  Through anecdotes and curiosities related to Rome, the reader gets to know peculiarities about Cavaggio, a curiosity about Piazza delle Azzimelle, an historical mention about burial laws of that time, and another mention about Non-Catholic Cemetery that at the time of Keats was an open field where the flock pastured and where his tomb is located nowadays.

The rhythm of the story is a crescendo of pot twists until the murderer is captured. Meanwhile, Ben Pastor ‘s passion for ghost stories peeps out, so Marietta re-appears.  The ghost of the young florist appears in Keats’s room, reveals him some clues and goes back  to visit him regularly almost every night just until before his death.  On the bedside table she leaves to him some wet petals of violets and this lets him to understand that in a short while they will re-join  in the delicate lawns where she is buried.

In conclusion, there are all the elements for a good story: the suspense of a detective story, a lot of relations to Keats’s life and to Rome in XIX century which take us to the historical novel and at the end the thrill of supernatural.

Our journey re-discovering John Keats goes on and through his letters to friends and relatives, we are going to traits of his features and his view of life.

 

Links:

Blackwood -Charlotte Anne EatonEndymion - Non-Catholic Cemeterey - Pyramid of Caius Cestius - Quarterly Review - Shelley – The Irish Monthly-  The Hobby Horse 

Stampa/PDF
Ben Pastor and Keats's flower girl