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The first novel in a captivating and atmospheric Italian mystery series

set in Lake Como featuring the clever Commissario Stefania Valenti





A Stefania Valenti Mystery

by Giovanni Cocco and Amneris Magella

Translated by Stephen Sartarelli

A Penguin Paperback Original ▪ $16.00 ▪ On-sale: February 7, 2017 ▪ 9780143127253




“[A] strong series kickoff… Police procedural and whodunit elements combine nicely with a complex, three-dimensional lead.”  Publishers Weekly

The first in a new Italian mystery series, SHADOWS ON THE LAKE (A Penguin Paperback Original; On-sale: February 7, 2017; $16.00; 9780143127253) by husband-and-wife team Giovanni Cocco and Amneris Magella introduces brilliant, determined police inspector Stefania Valenti as she investigates the death of a young man found in the mountains above Lake Como. This gripping story combines a tragic romance entwined in the last years of World War II with fascinating Italian history to form a riveting, original story that major national Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera praises as “A novel on a grand scale… a noir which winks at current events (ecology, politics), drifts into the realms of travel fiction, flirts with being a historical novel, only to return at last to the confines of crime fiction.”

During the construction of a new road to the Swiss border in the mountains above the famously beautiful Lake Como in Northern Italy, the remains of a young man are unearthed on the powerful Cappelletti family’s property. On the case is Commissario Stefania Valenti, forty-five and divorced with a teenaged daughter, and notably more determined and clever than her male colleagues.

Her investigation takes her back to World War II and deep into the history of the region, a place that during the war attracted smugglers, deserters, secret agents, and fleeing Jews, and where paintings, precious objects, and money could be hidden. Commissario Valenti’s investigation brings to light a family’s secret and reveals a fascinating and tragic piece of Italian history.

SHADOWS ON THE LAKE is the first entry in a series set amidst the atmosphere of Lake Como, which Cocco and Magella vividly capture in striking detail. Commissario Valenti is a sharp investigator, and is a sensitive, complex character with whom readers will naturally empathize. Perfectly suited for Italophiles and fans of Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri, SHADOWS ON THE LAKE is a memorable introduction to a strong-willed female detective and an important slice of Italian history, both of which readers will be eager to learn more about.

About the Authors:

GIOVANNI COCCO was born in Como in 1976. AMNERIS MAGELLA was born in Milan in 1958. They are married and live in Como, Italy.


Q&A with Giovanni Cocco and Amneris Magella, authors of


Penguin; On-sale: Febraury 2, 2017; $16.00

Q: SHADOWS ON THE LAKE is the first book in a new mystery series about the brilliant and strong-willed Commissario Stefania Valenti. What were your inspirations for this character and for this series?

A: We are, first and foremost, keen readers as well as writers. The first time that we thought about a book saga “of our own” we already had the character of Stefania Valenti in mind. We wanted her to be a bit like Inspector Montalbano, the very Italian character created by Andrea Camilleri, as far as her personality was concerned, whilst the way she works, her use of her observation, analysis and deduction skills, would remind the reader of the archetype of detective, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

Q: Set on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy, SHADOWS ON THE LAKE beautifully evokes the atmosphere of daily life in that world-famous site. Why did you choose this setting?

A: It is the place where we live and work, that we love and know better than anywhere else in the world. That’s why our characters live and work here too, they share our knowledge of this place, a location that is world-renowned for its beauty, the lake and the mountains, the little villages and sanctuaries like the UNESCO World Heritage Site Sacro Monte di Ossuccio. The lake shores host many villas such as Villa Balbianello, stunning film location for blockbusters like Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones or Casino Royale, and it is said that the basilica of Santa Maria del Tiglio, in Gravedona, inspired Leonardo Da Vinci for the background of his Last Supper. Lake Como has been chosen and cherished for various reasons by film directors and celebrities alike, like Alfred Hitchcock and George Lucas, George Clooney and Bruce Springsteen and many more. We had a story of love and death in mind and setting it here meant two things for us: showing the world the less known spots of this fascinating place and try and share the love we have for it.

Q: What are some things about the Lake Como that you describe in SHADOWS ON THE LAKE that US readers might not know?

A: As it often happens with very touristy places, people abroad mostly get to know only about the most famous bits of lake Como: the majestic landscapes, the grand villas and the celebrities of the film and fashion industry who bought them, or the luxurious Belle Époque hotels that we describe in our novels as well. Nevertheless, the true soul of the lake also lies in less known places and details: the narrow cobbled streets, the houses made of stone of the tiny villages along the coast, the paths in the woods, the little beaches you can only reach on foot and the ancient churches and chapels. It is a small, quiet world, friendly and peacefully coexisting with the bigger, glamorous reality of the villas known to the international jet set.

Q: What is your writing process as a team of two? Do you write together or do you take turns writing?

A: We always discuss the plot and the characters’ personality together, then each of us writes their own version of one or more parts, which are then compared and modified, read and corrected multiple times. It started as a game, and we wish it were always like this.

Q: What are some things about you that might be a surprise to US readers?

A: Although the readers might do their own bit of sleuthing and deduce something reading between the lines, Giovanni actually is a good cook, in accordance with the traditional Italian stereotype, he was a talented football player when he was younger and has worked as an estate agent. Amneris loves reading and collecting ancient books, jewels and gardening. We are fond of travelling and exploring new places.

Q: Amneris, you are a medical doctor and you work as a coroner. How did you use your medical background when writing SHADOWS ON THE LAKE?

A: My work experience and the way I think as a medical doctor and coroner helps me develop the investigations in the novel as a logical progression, through reflection, observation and the analysis of details. In some cases, it also helps as far as the technicalities of the job are concerned.

Q: What kinds of research did you do to make Commissario Valenti and the people in her life so fully formed as characters?

A: We take many factors into account when creating a character: the observation of reality and the people we know, our favourite books and films, the police cases we’ve read about, law reports we’ve followed, and much more. Characters come to life just like this, almost randomly, as a strange combination of things we’ve seen, life experiences lived here and there, stories we’ve heard, books we’ve read, films we’ve watched.

Q: Commissario Valenti’s case in SHADOWS ON THE LAKE turns on an important but little-known piece of local WWII history. How did you first learn about this history, and why is it important for US readers to know about it?

A: Italians all over the country study in school the historical circumstances that led to the collapse of Mussolini’s Fascist regime, the Nazi occupation of northern Italy, the Italian resistance movement of the partisans, the persecution of Jewish people and the violent fighting between warring factions, even after the end of the war. Nevertheless, living in the places where some of those events happened is an entirely different experience, as is the opportunity to hear the stories of those who lived in those troubled times or wrote about them then or later on in lesser known books and essays. It is often a wholly different reality that emerges from these readings, different from what we expect or have been taught, and it’s good to know about it.

Q: You are also known in your native Italy for writing literary novels. Why did you choose to write crime novels as well?

A: Giovanni has been writing for a long time before Shadows on the Lake as an independent author; he’s written books of various genres and more complex literary structure, praised by the critics and nominated for various literary prizes, namely the Premio Campiello (La Caduta was a finalist in 2013) and the Viareggio Prize (La promessa, 2015). Amneris, who is a writer as well as a fond crime novels reader, has involved him in this crime-writing adventure, that is turning out to be real fun and satisfying for both. To be completely honest, changing literary genre has been a bit of an oddity for us as Italian authors: whereas it is a fairly common occurrence in other countries (for example,  Julian Barnes or John Banville), it is still a sort of taboo in our country.

Q: What are you writing now?

A: We are working together on the next chapter of Stefania Valenti’s saga, set on a different shore of the lake, close to Bellagio. We prefer not to disclose any details, but we can say that the plot will move from the lake shores to the international environment art crime and trafficking. Furthermore, Giovanni, after dealing with the collapse of western society in La Caduta and doing some research on Andreas Lubitz, the suicide co-pilot responsible for the Germanwings plane crash in March 2015, is now working on a novel that is halfway through a psychological thriller and a family saga, set in the late 1930s, in the time of tuberculosis, in a sanitarium in the Swiss Alps.