In last year’s “The Slave Tag,” Bob Buckley of Marion offered a story compelling enough to overcome some deficiencies in literary refinement. Now, in “Ophelia’s Brooch” (Irish Enterprises, $15, 287 pages), he tells an equally compelling story that is only enhanced by an improved structural touch.
Buckley reintroduces his main characters from “The Slave Tag,” a young college couple who solved an intriguing historical puzzle through sheer intelligence and determination. Hank and Katie Torney are now in South Bend, Ind., where Katie is an architect and Hank is a sports psychologist at Notre Dame. Their young ward, Mariama, another returnee from the first novel, moves front and center. It’s her turn to tackle an enigma of historical significance, this one dating to 1485 in Sardinia.
Buckley succinctly lays the groundwork with an opening chapter in Sardina that quickly leaps to 1910 in Italy, following the historical path taken by a collection of gold coins and jewelry. The centerpiece of that collection is a magnificent brooch that now resides in a safety deposit box in Dubuque, held in trust by Hank and Katie for Mariama.
Mariama, a Notre Dame student working a summer internship in Chicago, spends a lunch hour with a friend viewing a traveling exhibit of Italian Masters when a painting stops her in her tracks. “You see that piece of jewelry she’s wearing on her dress?” she asks her friend. “That’s mine.”
And thus begins a remarkable journey of discovery.
Mariama enlists the help of an art professor at Notre Dame in a quest that takes her all the way to Italy in an effort to track down how a bejeweled brooch depicted in a centuries-old oil painting came to be in the possession of a priest from Dubuque, then passed down to her.
You’ll find a flaw here and there in Buckley’s narrative. But don’t let that trip you up, because this is a jewel of a story. Unlike the quest in “The Slave Tag,” this one presents a bump or two along the route that offer a touch of suspense and an increased ebb and flow to the rhythm of the plot.
Speaking of plot, it’s highly nuanced and believable. And Buckley has a much improved ear for dialogue, which also helps drive the story in pleasing fashion.This book stands alone quite nicely. But if you want to read “The Slave Tag” first, I wouldn’t abuse you of the notion. Both are available where e-books are sold, in hard copy at lulu.com, or by contacting Buckley at firstname.lastname@example.org.