City of Silver

Written by Annamaria Alfieri
Review by John Kachuba

In the 17th century, fabulous lodes of silver were mined from the area around Potosi, making the city in the mountains the richest city in the Western Hemisphere. As part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru, the wealth derived from Potosi financed Spanish colonial efforts around the world and supported the infamous Spanish Inquisition. But when the King of Spain discovers that the coins the city has been circulating throughout the world are not pure silver, the city’s very existence is threatened. His prosecutor and the Grand Inquisitor come to Potosi to uncover and punish both the counterfeiters and those who have run afoul of the Church.

Amid this tension, Inez Morada, the willful daughter of Potosi’s powerful alcalde, dies under mysterious circumstances in the convent run by Mother Maria Santa Hilda. All the signs point to suicide as the cause of death, but the abbess refuses to believe the girl would commit an act that would condemn her soul to hell and buries her within the convent. The abbess finds her own life at stake as a powerful enemy connected to the Inquisition uses that act against her and some of her fellow Sisters.

Annamaria Alfieri weaves together a beautiful tapestry of life in 17th-century New Spain with amazing details; as an example, the reader learns that Spanish newlyweds consummated their marriage through a slit cut into the linen bed sheets. The author also has a great appreciation for the Indian and Spanish cultures of that time and place, as well as for the political and social nuances that made that period so intriguing. This is an engrossing, fast-paced mystery packed full of historical fact that illuminates the story but never overshadows it; a great read, highly recommended.