Walsh’s novel is at heart a romance, albeit one laced with tragedy and an underlying mystery centered in Rome. There are also elements of mythical realism in the novel, the result a mélange that is sometimes successful, sometimes not. There is no question, however, of the author’s love of language and the exotic, a primary character a keris, a Javanese dagger that has particular meaning to the protagonist and at times seems to glow with a life of its own.
Maeve Leahy, a prodigy on the saxophone, has put aside her music and painful memories until she bids on a keris at a New York auction. That event leads her to Rome to locate the man who created the exotic blade. Ironically, Maeve cares deeply for a man who is also in Europe, Maeve’s journey giving the pair an opportunity to meet again.
Maeve has a complicated history that is only revealed in alternating chapters. Her twin sister, Moira, is an important part of Maeve’s life, but something has happened to the relationship and to Moira, a tragedy gradually made clear by the end of the novel: “She was second born and earth bound and not meant for such things.”
Whatever caused a breach between the closest of siblings has unraveled Maeve’s life since. Now Maeve hears voices, experiences haunting dreams, and is fearful in a way that would never have been possible in her youth. The keris holds the answer to all the mysteries - the fate of the twins, Maeve’s loss of spirit and curiosity, and her inability to let Noel Ryan know that she loves him.
Walsh cannot seem to harness the many parts of her story, from dreamlike fantasies to a very real threat, from the importance of the keris to the troubled past in Maine, where two inseparable sisters suffer the loss of closeness that has so defined them and been an integral part of their personalities.
Taken as a romance, all the rest is possible - passion, mystery, danger, grief - so it is perhaps best to enjoy this novel for its strongest element. The settings, from Maine to New York to Rome, are dramatic, Maeve’s conflict real and painful, and the ending, though sad, a path to resolution.