book reviews by Althea

The Malice of Fortune – Michael Ennis ****

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I loved Ennis’ “Duchess of Milan,” was not so blown away by his other novel “Byzantium.” Reading “Malice of Fortune,” I think that his forte is Renaissance Italy. I really enjoyed this historical mystery.

Furious over the mysterious death of his beloved son, Pope Alexander Borgia blackmails the murdered Juan’s former mistress, Damiata, into going to investigate the circumstances of his death. With the Pope holding her son hostage, and under suspicion herself, she has no choice.

Niccolo Machiavelli teams up with her, and as more and more mutilated bodies turn up around the city, even Leonardo Da Vinci gets involved, suspecting that the killer or killers are taunting him with a mathematical puzzle.

The challenge for the would-be detectives is not figuring out which of the many suspects could have committed such brutal crimes – most, if not all of the brutal condottierri lords are well known to be capable of atrocities. As far as motivation? Well, Juan was nearly universally disliked, both personally and politically.

I’m deducting a star because the whole serial-killer-creates-geometric-patterns-with-dead-bodies, in-which-a-clue-can-be-found plot, has been done until it does not need to be done any more. However, both Niccolo and Damiata are well-drawn and entertaining characters, and the story proceeds with a nice amount of complexity and thoughtfulness. An enjoyable read.


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