Summer’s Lease

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Villa to let near small Tuscan town Suit couple, early forties, with three children (females preferred)"--so ran the ad in Molly Pargeter’s London newspaper. Molly had had a “thing” about Italy since traveling there as a schoolgirl, and she was always looking for a new place to spend the summer holidays with her family. This advertisement, with its acute particularity, seemed tailor-made to her, her husband, and their three girls--so well tailored, in fact, that Molly’s instincts were aroused.

Molly Pargeter--who appears outwardly an awkward, matronly figure swathed in Laura Ashley dresses--is an unlikely sleuth. Still, she seems eminently qualified to solve the mysteries that swirl around La Felicita, the Tuscan villa. Her innate ability to rise to her new role is underscored in the opening lines of the book, during her introduction to La Felicita: Coming upon a snake consuming an unresisting Tuscan toad, she takes up a stick to put an end to what she regards an outrage. The episode provides apt foregrounding for what is to come as Molly, fascinated and obsessed by the ominous traces left by La Felicita’s owners, finally acts on her growing conviction that only she can put a stop to the corruption engulfing her sanctuary.

SUMMER’S LEASE is not a work of unrelieved suspense. John Mortimer devotes a generous amount of space to Molly’s aged father’s comic affairs and self-parodying literary “Jottings” regarding his perceptions of the family’s Italian adventure. Mortimer also repeatedly displays his gift for social commentary, starting with his description of Molly’s husband, Hugh, who had in his youth “the regular features and slightly curled hair of young men who model knitting patterns.” It is observations such as this that makes SUMMER’S LEASE a satisfying experience even after the intrigue ends.