A few days before Christmas, with Parma gripped by frost, Ghitta Tagliavini, the elderly owner of a student guesthouse in the old town centre, is found dead in her apartment by Commissario Soneri himself. The investigation that follows holds a painful, personal element for Soneri. Tagliavini's guesthouse is where he met his late wife Ada, and where the young couple spent unforgettable hours in each other's company. But the present can embitter even the sweetest memories. An old photograph of Ada with another man sends Soneri into a spiral of despondency, ever more so when he realises her death may be linked to Tagliavini's sideline as a backstreet abortionist. And his retrospective jealousy is compounded when he learns that Ghitta rented her rooms by the hour for the illicit liaisons of Parma's rich and powerful. Did Ada have a part to play? Though Soneri would like nothing more than to be allowed to drop the case, he doggedly persists, uncovering at last, along with the truth behind Tagliavini's death, rife corruption at Parma's rotten heart and a raft of ghosts from Italy's divisive past.
Valerio Varesi has been the Parma correspondent for La Stampa and La Repubblica. River of Shadows was the first of a series of thrillers featuring Commissario Soneri, now the central figure of one of Italy's most popular television dramas. It was followed in English translation by The Dark Valley, Gold Frankincense and Dust and A Woman Much Missed.