The Measure of a Man: A Novel of Leonardo da Vinci

Written by Howard Curtis (trans.) Katherine Gregor (trans.) Marco Malvaldi
Review by Bethany Latham

In Renaissance Milan, Leonardo da Vinci is in a difficult position. Acknowledged by all as a genius, he has been commissioned by Ludovico “il Moro” Sforza, Duke of Bari and Lord of Milan, to construct a bronze horse of gigantic stature to commemorate the duke’s father. So far, Leonardo hasn’t been able to deliver, and he’s further distracted from his work when a dead body is found dumped in Ludovico’s courtyard.

Those expecting a straightforward mystery will be disappointed. Malvaldi instead focuses on colorful characterization and various political and economic machinations. He combines this with a hearty dose of tongue-in-cheekiness and idiosyncratic, anachronistic narration (e.g., references to both SUVs and Giorgio Armani appear in a single spread). Malvaldi admits in his afterword (entitled “A Book Full of Errors”) that his PhD in chemistry doesn’t exactly guarantee historicity in a period novel. The work is essentially ahistorical in tone, but intentionally so. Yet the novel is certainly imaginative, and for those who might value a playful writing style and unconventional characterization over historical ambiance (or, for that matter, the plotting of the mystery itself), this literary mystery offers much that may appeal.