City of Masks
In this mystery set in the 1350s, Oswald de Lacy, Lord Somershill endures a brutal interrogation and receives a menacing warning from the Doge’s guard shortly after arriving in Venice. Instead of continuing on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land as planned, Oswald and his mother become stranded in the city during a Hungarian blockade of the entrance to its lagoon. They reside for several uncomfortable months in the odd household of a curmudgeonly English merchant. Oswald, who suffers from melancholy, welcomes an agreeable camaraderie with the merchant’s son and is horrified to discover that man’s murdered body in the courtyard of the house after a night of Carnevale festivities. His commitment to find the killer propels him into a maze of danger in questionable neighborhoods where truth is elusive and more deaths ensue. All the while, he is being watched.
A second storyline emerges through flashbacks of Oswald’s life in England, interspersed with the action of the Venetian murder investigation. If he is to succeed, he must come to terms with buried emotions from his past and a frightening shadow figure that haunts him. Duplicity is ever-present up to the surprise ending, which circles back to secret matters concerning the Republic of Venice.
The time period is well represented and believable, although the novel has the style of a modern thriller, with layer upon layer of rising tension, risks, and psychological hurdles for its protagonist as he races against time to solve the mystery and to survive. Fast-paced and suspenseful throughout, this tightly written story is intriguing and original and offers much to appreciate.
Early Medieval (to 1337)