Part of my 1st in a series –challenge.

This is the first, and so far the only, book in the historical mystery series centered on Niccolò Zuliani, a Venetian explorer and merchant.

He had to flee Venice after some pretty severe accusations and ended up in Crimea where he tried to drink himself to oblivion. However, the family Friar Alberoni hires him as a bodyguard and drags him into a long journey. The destination is no less than fabled Xanadu himself. Niccolò thinks that he can get himself a fortune there and agrees to go along. The Friar has a completely different agenda which Niccolò finds out far too late. However, when they finally reach Kublai Khan’s Xanadu, they find themselves involved in a murder case.

The story is told in the first person although it starts with a brief glimpse of the murderer in the third person right after the murder. After that, Niccolò takes over. He’s quite self-absorbed but entertaining enough. He’s always looking for his own advantage and is often drunk. He pines for his lost Katarina whom he left in Venice but gladly beds any willing woman. He learns the rudimentaries of the Mongol language quickly during the journey to Xanadu but has to resort to interpreters a few times.

Morson focuses on the characters and the plot and not so much in the setting. Niccolò is there to tell the readers how exotic and different the Mongol culture is compared to his “civilized” Venice. In addition to many Chinese and Mongolian characters, there’s a merchant from Genoa with whom Niccolò has a fierce rivalry and an Arab doctor.

Overall: entertaining but not great.