A children’s detective story unravelling in the heart of the Mediterranean

There’s this old Baroque villa in a small town called Rabat. It has haunted me almost every day since my childhood–and not just me, but countless others.

Perhaps it’s the way it stands within the heart of the town, yet detached from time and everday life. Perhaps because it’s been neglected for so long that everything around it has moved on, while this old mansion stayed rooted in a past that is no more.

The mansion I’m writing about is called Villa Luginsland, once the residence of the German consul Baron Max Von Tucker. He served in Malta in the early 20th century and during that time Von Tucker commissioned the architect Francesco Zammit to build the amazing villa.

For years, I had been thinking about writing a story based within the confines of this fascinating yet peculiar setting. I was pregnant with ideas about a young detective, about a mystery for children, possibly involving ghosts. What better place to give birth to this budding adventure?

In the story, I renamed the mansion to Villa Manduca, property of two old Baronesses, the Manduca sisters Rita and Domenica. Their house was built by their late Grandfather Richard. They have a small entourage of workers who help maintain the place, a gardener, a housekeeper, a maid and a handyman. I restored the delapitaed mansion for the purpose of my novel, keeping its original location and features.

Within the story, the mansion takes up a life of its own, becoming one of the main protagonists of the novel. Irvin Vella, the young wannabe sleuth and his twin 11-year old cousins Luca and Laura, explore every nook and cranny in Villa Manduca, slowly uncovering its deepest, most hidden secrets.

The magic of Villa Manduca seeped through the pages and somehow put a spell even on the illustrators. In the Maltese edition, published as ‘Il-Każ Manduca’ by Merlin Publishers in 2015, the brilliant Lisa Falzon created a most amazing cover with the villa’s exterior as backdrop.

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The illustration for the English edition of the book by artist José Domingo

For the English edition, which is currently available in eBook format, talented award-winning Spanish artist José Domingo took inspiration from my descriptions of the basement of the mansion and painted a gorgeous front cover for Irvin Vella’s first case. The exterior of the villa still appears on the back cover of the print-on-demand format that will be released soon on Amazon.

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New cover art for The Manduca Case

The brand new cover for The Manduca Case is a truly amazing work of art by Spanish artist and friend José Domingo.

The cover marks a new life for the Virtual Investigator as for the first time in my writing career I venture into the world of eBook publishing. Actually, there are a lot of firsts for me here. First eBook, first English novel to see the light of day, first publication on Amazon, first collaboration with a foreign artist…

José was born in Galicia, Spain. He has authored and illustrated several comic books and won many important awards. Nowadays he works in Malta, where he continues to create amazing illustrations. His latest publication is No me hables de política, a collaborative work for children that explain a bit how politics work.

The collaboration with José has been truly excellent. Being so close to the action, seeing his sketches as he did the character studies and experimented with different perspective was truly fascinating.

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I made the decision to ask him to create a new cover for various reasons. There was nothing wrong with Lisa Falzon’s artwork for the Maltese edition of the book which was a massive hit in Malta–in fact I loved it and still do. But I wanted to be totally free to experiment and not tied down with royalties. So I decided to commission the work to José. I also wanted to give the book a more international feel, since my intention is to continue experimenting . . . the next project will be a Spanish version of The Manduca Case.

So who better than my award-winning friend José Domingo to come up with the cover that will launch Irvin Vella into a multi-lingo future?


The Manduca Case is a translation of ‘Il-Każ Manduca’, a detective novel set in Malta. It was awarded the National Book Award in 2015. I translated it into English and the novel is currently available in eBook format from the Amazon Kindle stores.