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A Lackluster Journey: "The Etruscan Smile" by Velda Johnston

TLDR: Pass - Had a lot of possibilities given the setting of the story but did not stay up the expectations. Sometimes rushed and other times slow, the story itself was not a page turner but the

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The Story

Althea, a painter who lives by herself in small town near Florence goes missing. Her younger sister in New York, Samantha, receives a phone call from Italy about and decides to hop on the next flight to Milan so that she can investigate her sister's disappearance. No one seems to know where she is, but based on her reputation in that small town, assumes she of off with some man on vacation. Samantha starts wondering if the sister she remembers, is not the same person who was living here? What went so wrong with Althea's life that she changed so much to make such reckless decisions.

An Italian count with a reputation himself tries to insert himself into Samantha's investigation at each turn, raises Samantha's suspicions. So does the English archeologist living the neighbouring villa, who seems to be lurking around her farmhouse all the time on his bicycle. She can sense both of them are hiding things from her, but what? She stays on with the quest to find the reason which after a lot of efforts leads Samantha to Milan. Milan blurs her memories of her sister even more, how can this happen? Was she that desperate? Why did she never confided in me?

Reasons to read this book

You can visualise Italian countryside of those times

The reason I started reading this book was the promise of transporting me to the Italian countryside (and at times Milan) for those times, it did stay true to that promise.

Superhero dog character

The only character which I was rooting for, was happy and disappointed both at the same time was Samantha's loyal German Shepard which was her superhero. And I am not saying it metaphorically but really. You will need something when you finish the book to recover from all this dog can do.

Reasons to might want to skip

The story has the elements of success but still manages to fall flat

The story has elements of devastating family secrets, ancient priceless discoveries, romance and mystery and yet no one of them feels explored enough to create the story. If only each of those elements where explored enough throughout the phases of the storyline, it might have made even more impact. I was almost angry by the end of it because the Etruscan goddess statue story was given so much importance and then left aside like it didn't matter at all. If you give it so much importance, why not explore it enough?

Super Hero

As mentioned in the point above


Velda Johnston's "The Etruscan Smile" presents a rather lackluster tale that fails to live up to its potential. Despite its promising premise of mystery, romance, and ancient history, the execution of the story falls flat, leaving readers feeling underwhelmed and yearning for more depth. It was adequately engaging story, but as mentioned the unexplored facets of the story pissed me off a few times while reading.

Unfortunately, the exploration of this fascinating historical period feels disappointingly superficial. The characters, too, fail to leave a lasting impression. The protagonist, an archaeologist on a quest for truth, lacks the complexity and development needed to truly engage readers. The pacing of the novel is inconsistent, with moments of excitement followed by prolonged periods of stagnation. The plot lacks a sense of urgency and fails to maintain a consistent level of intrigue. Subplots that could have added depth to the narrative are left underexplored, resulting in missed opportunities to engage the reader on a deeper level.

"The Etruscan Smile" ultimately falls short of its potential, offering a disappointingly basic and uninspiring reading experience. While the book may hold some appeal for those seeking a light and undemanding read, readers with a penchant for historical fiction, mystery, and romance may find themselves longing for a more engaging and intellectually stimulating narrative.

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