Portrait of a Lady
The year is 1483, and Leonardo da Vinci and his apprentice Dino are asked by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, to investigate the mysterious deaths of two women of his household. When the artist decides to place a spy inside the Sforza palazzo, Dino is chosen but is asked to dress as a female. Of course, this proves to be no problem since Dino is really Delfina, a young woman who has run away from an arranged marriage.
Investigating the deaths embroils Delfina in the inner workings of the Duke’s household. Not only does she act as a lady-in-waiting to the Duke’s niece, Caterina, but she also finds herself in close and frequent proximity to Gregorio, the handsome captain of the ducal guard. Will her heart be broken by Gregorio’s roving eye? Will she end up as the third victim if Death pays another call to the palazzo? Only the tarocchi (tarot) cards with which Caterina plays seem to tell the answer.
From the outset, I had a problem suspending my disbelief. The author plays lip service not only to the social mores of the time, but also to the historical characters. Leonardo da Vinci was undoubtedly one of the most intelligent men ever born, yet he can’t seem to figure out that his apprentice Dino is really Delfina, a woman of twenty. In reality, a month or two in the company of da Vinci and his apprentices would unmask her, yet Delfina’s gender is never discovered—even when s/he is romping around dressed as a woman.
I hoped to have more of the story worked around da Vinci. Unfortunately, the great artist appeared mostly as a supporting character to Delfina, the apprentice-turned-sleuth. I was also disappointed in the author’s overuse of adjectives and adverbs and characters that proved less engaging than I had hoped.