Thursday, May 23, 2013

Shelf Life [adult]

The Wolves of St. Peter’s by Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk

When one thinks of Rome, that eternal city set among seven hills along the Tiber river, one thinks of lovely piazzas, ancient columnar architecture and some of the most beautiful works of art in the world. The Rome of Buonaguro and Kirk’s novel, however, is very different. Set during the painting of the Sistine Chapel, Rome is suffering a deluge of rain on par with Noah’s flood, and once the flood waters recede pestilence will follow. Folks are leaving the city in droves, while the wolves of the nearby hills – starving because their natural prey is overhunted by Pope Julius and the like – are descending into the city in search of whatever food they can scavenge, animal or human. However some wolves walk on two feet, and it is this kind that Francesco Angeli hunts, after he recognizes the body of a courtesan floating in the Tiber, her famously beautiful face marred, and both the ring she recently flaunted and the finger that bore it missing. Soon after her body disappears from the city’s mortuary, and her former lover also turns up dead. A disgraced lawyer from Florence now working as Michelangelo’s houseboy, Francesco puts his underutilized mind to work at the whys and wherefores behind these murders, with some help from his sometime lover Susanna who proves adept at winkling out truth from the gossip she overhears in the market and servants’ quarters. Little does Francesco know how closely his recent past is tied to the answers he seeks. The authors, Buonaguro and Kirk, from Toronto and Kingston respectively, have written two previous novels (Ciao Bella and The Sidewalk Artist), but this is their best so far; the characters are both familiar and exotic, the historical details first-rate (particularly fun is the rivalry between Michelangelo and Raphael, even though they are minor characters), although the painting which is central to the mystery is entirely fictional. There are some surprising twinkles of humour too – mostly provided by a three-legged chicken. This is a fine read for historical mystery lovers and art-lovers alike, and the ending seems to indicate we will see more of Francesco Angeli in the future. I hope so.  Find The Wolves of St. Peter’s and other titles reviewed in this column at under the tag “Shelf Life Reviewed”.

This review appears in The Stratford Gazette on May 23, 2013. Written by Robyn Godfrey, Librarian.

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