Ritual of Fire (Cesare Aldo series, 3)
This is the third book to feature Cesare Aldo, an officer of Florence’s criminal court. As the title suggests, heat is at the heart of this historical thriller set in Renaissance Italy. It is the summer of 1538, and everyone in Florence seems to be on fire: the residents of the city are roasting in the intense heat; Aldo is burning for his Jewish lover, Saul; and someone is murdering prominent merchants by setting them ablaze. A mysterious stranger is whipping the citizens up into a religious fervour that threatens to destabilise the city and take the life of its ruler, Cosimo de’ Medici. Aldo must work with Constable Strocchi to investigate the ritual killings before Florence is engulfed by an inferno of death and destruction.
This is an intricately plotted, satisfying novel. It successfully depicts how religion, commerce and politics intertwine to form a corrupt nexus. Male relationships, of all varieties, are central to the story. The prominent men being murdered are all members of a newly-outlawed fraternity desperate to keep their dark secret hidden. The relationships between them are riven by jealousy, ambition and distrust. Their lust for power proves very costly. Aldo’s forbidden affair with the physician Saul is touchingly depicted. His relationship with Strocchi’s family is affecting but remains an underdeveloped element of the novel. Perhaps Bishop will return to this in future books in the series. I look forward to spending more time with Bianca and Tomasia.
The middle section is overlong and would have benefited from tighter editing. But it was well worth reading on to experience the shocking denouement. I thought I’d worked out who was behind the killings, but I discovered I’d been cleverly hoodwinked. Highly recommended.