Meet Serafina Florio, a widowed midwife-turned-sleuth living in nineteenth-century Sicily.
She lived the first part of her life in Oltramari, a fictional city near Palermo. Her father, a visiting professor at the University of Turin, died in the January 1848 revolution; her mother, a midwife, perished in the cholera epidemic of 1865.
In 1847, Serafina married Giorgio Florio, the apothecary’s oldest son, who, like Serafina, was a member of the merchant class. After marriage, Serafina remained a midwife, refining her skills, delivering healthy babies.
In 1866—a horrific year in Sicily’s history—three prostitutes were knifed to death, their foreheads gouged with a strange, spiraling mark, their bodies dumped on the madam’s doorstep. When the police did nothing to solve the murders, Rosa—Serafina’s oldest, dearest friend—asked for her help. How could she refuse?
After grappling with the Mafia and other villains to solve mysteries in her native town, she moves her family to Paris and eventually to the Lower East Side. Although she dies in 1914, she survives her own death and defies the Black Hand to uncover truth. Her memory is long, her perspective, grand, her penchant for quibbling with Rosa, undiminished, her gift for numbers, still meager, but her hallmark?—she never, ever gives up.