May 7 2006
This was Ross’s last book before her untimely, early death and it’s one of her best. It really is too bad that the mystery world lost her and her creations, Julian Kestrel and his manservant, Dipper.
1821: Austrian controlled Italy seethes with revolt which threatens to break out in Lombardy as it has in other parts of the country. But the music mad Marchese de Malvezzi is only concerned with his new protege-an unknown Englishman with a tenor voice to make the angels smile. Wanting to heighten the mystery around him, Malvezzi keeps his identity a secret and the few who see him know him only as Orfeo.
When the Marchese is murdered, local authorities ruthlessly suppress the fact for fear that local revolutionaries will see the death of an important opponent as a signal to rise up. When the truth is revealed 4 years later, the family is outraged, Milanese society is shocked and Julian Kestrel see a case he can’t bear to refuse.
As usual, there are any number of suspects who had or could have had reason to want the Marchese dead. And when the murder is that old, the clues are that hard to find and so many of the suspects have reasons not to reveal their real identities, unraveling the mystery will take all of Kestrel’s formidable skills at deduction.
Ross’s writing style is smooth and her knowledge of the period, of Italian history and of opera are fantastic. I never got pulled out of the story because of any mistakes. Where the book wound up falling to a lower grade for me was in the ending. There were just too many amazing coincidences, last minute details thrown in that hadn’t been mentioned before and deus ex machina-istic things for me to love it. I figured out one of the major mysteries, didn’t figure out the murderer and pretty much guessed correctly on a few other things. Another problem was the ending scene between Orfeo and another of the suspects out in a boat on the lake when lots of things are revealed in a very artificial manner. It felt tacked on and the dialogue was very affected.
I did like the descriptions of time and place and could easily picture myself on the scene. The references to various operas and music were nice to read. I love Kestrel who has a sense of honor that a gentleman of the period would have and which too many regency heroes lack. Overall, I’d give it a B and mourn the loss of this author.