This is the third book in the delightful Alchemist series which is set in the Renaissance Venice under the Doge Pietro Moro. Once again, Maestro Nostradamus and his apprentice Alfeo Zeno investigate a murder case.
Alfeo’s lover Violetta, who is also one of the finest courtesans in Venice, calls on the Maestro. She has a case for him: her mentor Lucia has been found dead in one of the canals with all of her jewelry intact. She has been dead and in the water for a few days. However, Nostradamus isn’t interested in the death of an elderly courtesan and he also thinks that the case would be impossible without witnesses or a crime scene. He also thinks that Lucia could have killed herself. As a courtesy, he does allow Alfeo to look into it for a short while.
Alfeo and Violetta start their investigation and find out a few strange things. One of the senators found Lucia’s body and kept her valuables from being stolen, which still means that the purported killer didn’t take them. Then they find out that another courtesan, Katarina, has been killed. Also, an old, sick noble man wanted to tell Nostradamus something after he had heard about Katarina’s murder. Unfortunately, the apparently kind and generous man died before telling anyone what he had wanted to say. How could his death be related to the courtesan’s?
Then Alfeo finds out that a third courtesan has been killed as well and starts to really be worried for Violetta’s sake. It seems clear that someone is killing courtesans and the Maestro decides to investigate after all in order to prevent a future murder. But before Alfeo can do much more, the ruling council of Ten forces him to stop his investigations.
This time Alfeo is plunged to the worlds of both the nobles and the highest paid prostitutes. And, of course, politics because politics belongs into both of those worlds. Violetta is his guide to both of the worlds although she knows more about the world of the courtesans. Alfeo finds out more about her profession than he would want to.
The luxurious Venice is again the backdrop to the story and it shines through in both the culture and the luscious descriptions. We also get some historical info. For example, about the War of the Fists where the working class men vented their aggression and everyone else apparently admired them. However, the history lessons are always pertinent to the story and usually brief.
The characters are again delightful: the crotchety Nostradamus suffers even worse rheumatism than usual and Alfeo tries to earnestly please his lover, and all other young women. Violetta is her enigmatic self: again she shows many facets of herself being in turn a tender lover, a canny politician, or a grieving friend. Many of the prostitutes don’t want to tell their secrets to anyone and the men who come under suspicion aren’t any more forthcoming.
The plot is a complex mystery with many twists.
Overall: an excellent continuation of the series.