Sarah Dunant is a masterful storyteller. She knows how to immediately hook the reader and then play with the mind. Her Birth of Venus was spellbinding with its description of Renaissance Italy. In Mapping the Edge she returns to Florence to set part of the novel.
Anna Franklin is a freelance journalist based in London who packs her bags and journeys to Italy. When she doesn't return as scheduled her family becomes alarmed. She leaves behind her daughter Lily and housemate Paul along with Paul's boyfriend, Michael. As the novel begins Estella, Anna's confidante and best friend is alerted to Anna's disappearance. Estella immediately travels to London from Amsterdam to be a support to Lily and Paul as well as to garner any clues as to Anna's whereabouts.
While Estella narrates most of the novel, the reader enters into another narrative of parallel stories. There are two possible explanations for Anna's departure: she has been kidnapped or she has run away to meet a lover. Told with heightening suspense, each narrative moves toward a thrilling end as the reader ponders which story is, in fact, the true one. At the same time, Estella's narrative grounds us in how either prospect weighs on those who have been left in London.
Dunant is superb in her command of setting and character. She allows us to develop such a mind picture because of her descriptions that there is no doubt as to where are characters are and what constitutes their surroundings. While in Florence a few years a go, we stayed a hotel on the Via Guelfa. Anna walks that street and Dunant's description brought me back to the same place that I had stayed. Likewise, she has created her cast with pasts that weigh in on present actions and allows them to react to situations as the individuals that they are.