Brit-lit powerhouse Santa Montefiore didn't always think fondly of her childhood nickname. But to her Anglo-Argentinian mother, the moniker clearly described baby Santa in Spanish as a saint. "I wish the name was something more romantic. But I like it now, because it's my writing name. But growing up with this image of a big, red, fat man who comes down the chimney is kind of hard for a little girl who wants to be slim and pretty," laughs Montefiore, who's married to fellow scribe Simon Sebag Montefiore. "I also make children cry every Christmas. You say Santa is coming for tea, and they rush to the door and burst into tears."It's only fitting that the longtime friend of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles would grow up to write tearjerkers like Montefiore's seventh novel, Sea of Lost Love, which she'll sign at two meet-and-greets today and tomorrow. The story starts in 1958 at a lavish birthday ball in a rambling English mansion. By the end of the night, death has stalked paradise, and the book's heroine confronts hidden secrets about her family. With the backing of her American-born grandfather, she travels to Italy to meet an enigmatic stranger, who knows the truth behind the mysterious clan. The 37-year-old Montefiore admits she was inspired to write the story because of her love for CSI. "You have all these fabulous American dramas we watch in England," says Montefiore. "My husband and I settle down with the cornflakes and really love them all."The paperback book comes on the heels of Montefiore's best-sellers Last Voyage of the Valentina and The Gypsy Madonna. Her next book, The French Gardener, drops next year, and a Valentina sequel is due in 2010. But don't call any of them classic whodunits. "I consider myself a storyteller and nothing better than that. But I've added another layer to my stories in the form of mystery," says Montefiore. "I'd never classify it as a mystery, but it gives the reader another reason to turn the page." Montefiore signs her book at 5:30 tonight at Loganberry Books, 13015 Larchmere Boulevard in Shaker Heights and 1 p.m. tomorrow at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 24519 Cedar Road in Lyndhurst. Admission is free. Call 216-795-9800 or 216-691-7000.
Fri., May 9, 5:30 p.m., 2008