The Gallery of Beauties: A Venice Beauties Mystery

Written by Nina Wachsman
Review by Kishore Krishna

This debut mystery set in Renaissance Venice is a delight to read, especially for those who have visited the city. The Rialto, the Grand Canal, the Bridge of Sighs, the prison beneath the Doge’s palace, and the Jewish ghetto all have a starring role. The two heroines—Diana, a widow, and Belladonna, a courtesan—are both on journeys to discover what more they can be. While they are constrained by their circumstances, the author succeeds in conveying a note of optimism as they make their choices and face the consequences of their actions.

The driving force of the plot is a set of paintings of beautiful Venetian women commissioned by a visiting English noble. The creation of these paintings sets off a series of murders that are solved by the heroines. The complex maneuvering of the players and politics of the day is brought out in an understandable way without overwhelming the narrative. We can guess who the murderer is early in the book, but it’s the slow reveal of the causes which makes the mystery enjoyable.

The informative afterword discusses the historical background and points out some great reads. I have already downloaded the autobiography of Leon de Modena, a famous rabbi of the times; he is a scholar who also happens to have a gambling problem and, apart from being the author’s ancestor, is Diana’s father in the book. Recommended.