A fast-moving adventure mystery set in the Adriatic province of Istria and taking place over three dramatic historical eras:
- Istria: The Present Day
- The Roman Occupation of the 1st Century AD
- The Partisan of the War of Liberation 1943-45
ISTRIA GOLD follows the powerful, elusive and corrupting lure of the Istrian Truffle across the sweep of history
Three dramatic and dynamic stories with one common thread – the fabled Istrian truffle.
The secrets of how to find these fabulously rare culinary legends have been passed from generation to generation since ancient times.
ISTRIA GOLD takes the reader on a thrilling ride through the history of greed inspired by the ‘black diamond’ and the ‘ivory princess.’
Star undercover cop Marco Mihailic knew his days with the Metropolitan Police were numbered. Infiltrating the radical environmental gang was easy but when he began to see sense in their ideology, if not their methodology he knew he was in trouble. Worse, he fell in love with the outfit’s most committed fighter and co-founder of the unit, Janey.
Given that it was clear that Marco’s loyalties lay nearer to Gaia than Her Majesty the Queen, his summary dismissal from the Met comes as no surprise to anyone. Except his family in Istria. His once-shining career in ruins, Marco returns to the land of his fathers. His disgrace hasn’t gone down well with his family, and their eyebrows rise that he has decided to return home after so many years away. But when things turn rough, it’s business as usual for ex P.C. Mihailic. Especially with the re-appearance on the scene of his feisty ex-girlfriend Emina who, true to form, is more often than not calling the shots.
Back in Istria a whole other can of worms is waiting for Marco. The family patriarch, his grandfather Nino, is in deep trouble. His small business dealing in rare Istrian truffles is running out of cash and Nino has turned to loan sharks. Before he knows it, old Nino is in debt to organised crime and then to a consortium of Chinese businessmen intent on exploiting the lucrative trade in truffles for themselves. Things aren’t made any easier by an old grudge from the Partisan War of Liberation turning up after 70 years.
When things turn rough, it’s business as usual for Mihailic who has to call on all his undercover cop know-how when he gets on to the scent of the fabled Istrian truffle.
Colonia Pietas Julia, AD 82
At 16 Lucia has no match as dog handler in the Vespasian Colosseum in Colonia. Her English Mastiffs – Pugnaces Britanniae – are large, low, heavy animals, spirited fighters and loyal to the death. One day, on a boar hunt deep in the Istrian countryside, they make a discovery. Or rather the dogs do. They smell out a virgin truffle bed of such fabulous abundance that just the thought of it would drive the covetous Roman Empire wild.
Soon Lucia is to become aware that her dangerous and highly lucrative discovery will change not just her life but also those of her gladiator lover Nascia, and her stepfather Severus.
This is the first time that truffles have been discovered in such abundance in Istria. The key to the discovery, Lucia’s precious and highly trained fighting dogs. And by hook or by crook Team Lucia mean to keep their secret to themselves and in doing so find liberation.
Brothers Nino and Toni Mihailic watch waves of invaders – first the Italians, then the Germans, then in the rest of the country, the Ustasha – beat, shoot and imprison innocent, helpless villagers in the war-torn Istrian countryside. Driven by revenge, the brothers head for the hills to join Tito’s Partisans. Within a year Toni’s (red) star is riding high in the Istrian Batallion after a series of victories that grab the attention of the Marshal himself.
At the war draws to its ragged close, chaos reigns and humanity unravels. These are the dark days of the foibes – mass killings committed by both sides when victims were thrown into the deep karst pits of the Veneto around Trieste, and Istria.
Nino takes a bribe – a bribe to save a man’s life. It’s a piece of Roman gladiator armour, a manica. Not only is it valuable, says its owner, but it contains the secret of great wealth. As secret that finally comes to light more than seven decades later.
Endlessly surprising. Mike Downey has a truffle dog’s nose for a good story.
Lee Hall, writer of Billy Elliot
Mike Downey’s debut novel, Istria Gold, skillfully braids three stories of gladiators in the Roman occupation in AD 81, partisans in the Second World War, and the contemporary return of a failed cop to his Croatian homeland. Downey, who fell in love with Istria forty years ago, shares his infatuation of this landscape steeped in conflict, history and glorious food – especially, the truffle. This precious tuber is both a real and narrative mycelium, embedded within the Istrian soil, connecting Downey’s fascinating characters through centuries of turmoil - characters as rich and complex in flavor as the truffle: from the father and daughter team of ex-gladiator Severus and Lucia who discover how to preserve them in oil, to Nino, a young Partisan in the Resistance whose passion for truffle hunting almost gets him killed, and his grandson, Marco, who reconnects to his family – and himself – through a hunt for a dangerous truffle cartel. Downey is a passionate tour guide as well as a nimble story-teller. He had me Googling maps of Istria and looking up plane ticket prices. Here is a classic adventure story, sparkling in the Istrian sun and best read with a glass of Istrian walnut brandy, goat’s cheese with turmeric, and, of course, truffles.
Melanie Finn, author of Away From You and The Gloaming
Downey has the uncanny ability to switch between wildly different storytelling eras, leaving us longing for the one left behind, only to find ourselves instantly immersed in the next. Clearly, I’ve never spent much time in either the Roman occupation of Istria, nor the Nazi occupation years later, so my assertion is entirely indefensible … but his depictions are so grippingly authentic, the man must possess a time machine.
Michael Kalesniko, author of Pucker Up and Howard Stern’s Private Parts
Mike Downey and his Istria Gold is a novel that is at once epic and startling!
Rebecca Lenkiewicz, writer of Oscar® winning movie, Ida
Downey's prose is sharp, engaging and entertaining - so much so that before you know it, you've arrived at the end of the book and want to start all over again. His protagonists are alive and vivid on the page, and his ability to submerge the reader in multiple and concurrent historical periods makes this book a winner!
Bob McLeod, Good Reads
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To contact the publishers:
MPress (Media) Ltd
- Istria Gold by Mike Downey - Press release [pdf, 2.37 MB]