‘Killer Smile’ a little implausible, but still a worthy read

I’m a latecomer to the Lisa Scottoline party, but I’ve become a fan of her work. The Italian/South Philly tone rings true, and most of her novels have the right touch of wry humor.

“Killer Smile,” though, isn’t one of them. Well, there are bits and pieces here and there — Judy, a friend of main character Mary DiNunzio, is one colorful character, and the duo have a way of getting into scrapes — but for the most part, this is a murder mystery with a serious tone.

The murder is more than a half-century in the past, during World War II. An associate has asked Mary, on a pro-bono basis, to look into the case of Amadeo Brandolini, an Italian immigrant who reportedly committed suicide in an internment camp in Montana, to see if there is a possibility of reparations for any heirs.

Mary at first seems to be mildly intrigued by the case but soon becomes obsessed with it, to the detriment of her other clients and at great risk of infuriating her boss. That the reason for her obsession, which threatens to cost her her career and maybe even her life, is never fully explained — beyond the dead man’s resemblance to George Clooney — definitely strains the capacity to suspend disbelief.

However — and this is a big however — this is a riveting story. I (like, Scottoline maintains, most Americans born after that era) was unaware that Italian immigrants were sent to internment camps, just as Japanese immigrants were. (The story apparently was inspired by the fact that Scottoline’s grandparents were required in 1942 to register as “enemy aliens” even though they’d lived lawfully in this country for 30 years.) Through Mary DiNunzio, Scottoline draws a very detailed picture of the lives of Italian immigrants before, during and after the war and at the Montana camp.

The story takes lots of twists and turns, but for the most part (a clothesline that survived Philadelphia weather for 50 years being among the exceptions), it’s entirely plausible. And it sure is colorful.   

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