Venice in the 1500s is not a pleasant place to live. Politicians fight against the Pope. Nationalities are at war with one another. No one is truly safe. Expressing one’s opinion against either Church or State can quickly become a death sentence.
Mathias Munster is a monk with too many opinions. Occasionally, those opinions boil over & he voices them. An instance such as this causes him to be suspended indefinitely from his teaching position in Padua. For awhile. he’s longed to return to Venice. However, he’s both pleased & disturbed when the Doge’s men arrive with a written request for his presence in Venice immediately.
Requests from the Doge aren’t brushed aside. What Mathias doesn’t know, is that he’ll be playing detective in Venice. Over the course of several weeks, three bodies, mutilated beyond recognition, have been found floating in the canal. Each was nailed to a plank & severely tortured. Feeling that Mathias is the ony man he can trust, the Doge turns to him. Residents of Venice believe a demon has escaped Hell to punish them. More secular theories are that someone is making a political statement. The Doge has many enemies, many opponents, & very little time.
As his rivals jockey for coups, wars, & one-upmanship, people are dying & no one can explain it. All Mathias has to work with is the feeling that someone has unleashed this demon/man to wreak havoc on Venice. The question is why?
Reading historical fiction always requires the modern readers to forget DNA evidence & everything else we’ve learned from CSI. Mathias has zilch as far as clues go & word of mouth can be bought for a few ducats. With this frame of mind, we realize how drastically difficult investigating a crime would be. Mathias is beyond intelligent with both an analytical mind & as a good judge of character. It will also serve readers to bear in mind how much influence the Pope wielded during this era. With Pope’s such as our modern Francis, it’s difficult to reconcile a heavy-handed Pope such as the one in our story.
Much as changed in our world for sure. Regardless, the mystery aspect of the novel was fantastic. Unique references that I’ve not encountered before plus the use of an under-used setting definitely played in the book’s favor. Mathias is a flawed, unlikely type of hero. He’s surrounded by a large cast of characters that make one want to cheer or slap them depending on the scene. My first complaint is in regards to the character names. Everyone had a similar name except Mathias. Surely there’s not that big a shortage in Italian names to use? It became confusing. While I understand the need to titles etc., it became a cyclone of confusion.
I did appreciate that while some of the torture is described, I believed it to be only in a necessary way to further the story. Some sensitive readers will be surprised by the inclusion on a number of sexual scenes. Complaint #2: there was no need for the sex scenes. All it did was add too many more pages to a book that was already close to 400 pages. In fact, the book came very close to being too long. It seemed to just drag along in parts. While historical explanations were certainly necessary to understand the entire plot, there were many that were non-essential.
A more condensed version, centering ONLY on Mathias & his mystery, would have been an easy 5 star book. Sadly, all the hoopla included knocks it down to 3.