The Apothecary’s Shop

Written by Katherine Gregor (trans.) Roberto Tiraboschi
Review by Andrea Connell

In 1118 AD in Venice, amidst famine and fear, an innocent young woman from a noble family disappears. The household scribe, a tortured ex-monk, has taken it upon himself to solve the case and discover the truth. He encounters doctors, apothecaries, undertakers, Eastern merchants, farmers, and African slave traders during his investigation.

The atmosphere of a Venice in wretched shape is powerful; the characters themselves, well developed. The mystery takes a while to get to full speed, but it eventually does. The plot resolution is truly surprising and shocking. However, readers may find that a lack of backstory detail for the main characters detracts from their enjoyment of the book. Although the main characters’ traumatic pasts are hinted at several times, these events are never fleshed out, and readers are left hanging. Why not explain what made the characters the way they are and living under the circumstances they are? If these elements aren’t important, then why initially hint at them?

A second distraction is that the title is rather misleading. The Apothecary’s Shop is not the center of the action. It doesn’t have much to do with the story at all. Overall, I enjoyed the mystery aspect—unsolvable in my mind, but neatly resolved in the book. The writing is sophisticated and literary. The atmosphere is dark, matching the characters’ emotions and circumstances. However, the novel feels incomplete and flat, despite the compelling plot.