Friday, December 21, 2012

The Malice Of Fortune by Michael Ennis

The year is 1503 and the place, Italy.  The country is caught up in a maze of intrigue as Popes and Princes and men of influence all maneuver to control the different principalities that make up the country.  Under the political maze, another fear exists.  Women are being killed and dismembered, their bodies used to play a game of influence by creating fear and wonder.

Many of the players' names are still known today.  Pope Alexander VI, who before he became pope was Rodrigo Borgia of the influential Borgia family.  Leonardo Da Vinci, who in addition to his painting, roamed the halls of influence, valued because of his architectural and scientific knowledge.  Niccolo Machiavelli, most famous now for his book, The Prince, which details the routes of power and the options for gaining it while clearly dissecting human behavior.  Duke Valentino (Cesare Borgia), who was The Prince Machiavelli wrote of.   He is the bastard son of Pope Alexander and spends his life trying to gain his approval.

As the book opens, Valentino is using his armies to try to unite Italy.  Machiavelli is serving as an emissary for Florence and follows Valentino to report his actions back to the city leaders.  He meets Damiata, the most famous courtesan of the time.  She has had relationships with Valentino and his brother, by whom she had a son.  The Pope, who mourns his son's death and suspects, Damaita of being involved in the plot, kidnaps her son and tells her that he will keep him until she learns the truth of the plot that resulted in his son's death.  Suspecting that Valentino is involved, she also ends up in the town where he has his headquarters.  She meets Machiavelli and they join forces as they attempt to unravel Valentino's intentions, find his brother Juan's murderer and discover who is killing prostitutes and witches in such a grisly fashion.

This is a wonderful book.  Lush language, court intrigue, the first serial killer, deceptions and far-reaching plans, a political observer who may be the first forensic profiler, all pull the reader in and entwine them in the plot and language. The events call on enough historical fact to make the plot seem entirely believable and the reader is fascinated by the personalities and their complex interactions.  This book is recommended for lovers of historical fiction as well as for mystery fans and anyone interested in a compelling read.

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