The House of Whispers by Anna Mazzola



Rome, 1938. As the world teeters on the brink of war, talented pianist Eva Valenti enters the house of widower Dante Cavallera to become his new wife.

On the outside, the forces of Fascism are accelerating, but in her new home, Eva fears that something else is at work, whispering in the walls and leaving mysterious marks on Dante’s young daughter. Soon she starts to wonder whether the house itself is trying to give up the secrets of its mysterious past – secrets that Dante seems so determined to keep hidden.

However, Eva must also conceal the truth of her own identity, for if she is discovered, she will be in greater danger than she could ever have imagined…


When her hours at the school where she has been teaching are cut, Eva Valenti decides to supplement her income by taking on private lessons and is soon employed by Dante Cavallera to give his teenage daughter piano lessons. When Eva arrives for her first lesson, she finds the Cavallera children are still in deep mourning after the recent death of their mother and Chiara, her new pupil, is very withdrawn. Over the coming weeks, Eva begins to get a sense there is something seriously wrong in the household as objects break spontaneously and Chiara has deep scratches on her arms. However, when Eva tries to broach the subject with Dante, her concerns are dismissed as childish pranks.

The supernatural activities remind Eva of an episode in her childhood where she could hear and see things others could not and it led to her being committed to a sanatarium for a time. Worried her old problem may be returning, Eva is relieved when the Cavallera housekeeper confirms things are being moved and the house is plagued with strange noises. As she is not the only one to have witnessed these things, Eva begins to believe the house is haunted by the spirit of the late Adelina Cavallera who may be unhappy with Eva’s presence within her family.

Eva has gotten into the habit of having coffee with Dante Cavallera after her piano lesson has finished and she is shocked to find herself falling in love with him. Loving Dante comes with risks though as he is a high-ranking member of the Fascist party who want to rid Italy of “inferior races” and Eva has a big secret of her own as she is Slovene. Eva is urged to leave Italy with her Jewish friends but she stubbornly refuses to believe the Italian government will carry out the dark threats and is given a bigger reason to stay when Dante proposes.

Against the advice of her friends, Eva marries Dante and soon finds herself in the inner circle of the Fascist party which puts her life in immediate danger should her secret be revealed. However, Eva has other problems to deal with as Dante is not the man he appeared to be and she realises he only married her to gain a promotion. As the supernatural activities increase, Eva tries to make Dante see sense but he twists things to make Eva appear mentally ill and has a doctor prescribe medication to calm her down. Horrified, Eva soon realises Dante was probably responsible for the death of his first wife and now she in danger of becoming his next victim.

House of Whispers is quite slow-paced but the tension increases as Mussolini continues to collude with Nazi Germany and follows their example by expelling the so-called inferior races. The Jews are the first to suffer as they are increasingly barred from society and soon lose their livelihood. Yet Eva continues to bury her head in the sand believing Italy will see sense sooner rather than later even though she witnessed the horrors of ethnic cleansing as a child. Eva’s stubbornness prevents her from seeing the realities of the situation which means she puts a lot of lives in danger. The idea of her marrying Dante and keeping her secret is also risible as Eva has told too many people about her background and Italy is full of spies.

The paranormal elements also didn’t real work for me as they seemed superfluous to the story as there was so much going on anyway with the build up to the war. There are many explanations offered but we are never told exactly what and the psychic abilities Eva may or may not have are not adequately explained either. We are also not given an adequate explanation about the things Eva says she remembered seeing and hearing as a child which led to her eventual breakdown.

I really felt this book would have worked better as an historical one without the gothic elements as the author really captures the tense atmosphere of Italy in the 1930s and the rising fear in the populace. I would have liked to have seen Eva drawn more into the social aspects of the Fascist party wives so we could have had more of a sense of the danger. Only one man discovers the truth about Eva’s heritage but it happens so late in the story, there is no time to discover how he would have used the knowledge against her. I also believe there was scope for Eva to be drawn into the Italian resistance as she had at least one friend who was connected with them.