The Third Heaven Conspiracy

Written by Giulio Leoni (trans. Anne Milano Appel)
Review by Rachel A Hyde

Florence, 1300. The city teeters on the edge of the Renaissance, and is trying to reinvent itself as a place of learning and high culture. Dante Alighieri has just been made Prior, and is keen to make a good impression. But what he gets instead is involvement in a complex case following the bizarre murder of a master craftsman who was working on a vast mosaic. Under the floor is a network of ancient catacombs, haunted by the beggars’ guild and worse. Surely such a civilized place cannot be the venue for satanic rituals?

It all sounds a bit like Paul Doherty, but is nearer in style to The Name of the Rose. Leoni presents Dante warts and all, and he comes over as being arrogant and unsympathetic – something of a flaw in the protagonist. His chilly persona distances the reader from the story, and it is hard to care much whether he succeeds or fails. This is, however, an absorbing glimpse at Florence when it was just heaving itself out of the Middle Ages and into a more familiar setting for novels. This alone makes it worth the price of admission. Also fascinating are the politics of the time, but it might be a better idea to have put that all-important glossary at the beginning of the book. Shades of The Da Vinci Code, but if you didn’t like that (my hand is up now) it won’t mean that you won’t like this.