Both of the men are castrati—singers who paid the terrible price of sexual mutilation in order to maintain their perfect child soprano voices. One of them, Tito Amato, returning to his native city after many years in Naples at the famed Conservatorio San Remo, where he perfected his art, is about to become a star. The other, his best friend, Felice Ravello, is a sadder figure: Despite the operation, his voice has cracked and thickened, and he must develop other musical skills to survive.
"Castrati are famous for having the small, delicately formed larynx of a woman and the prodigious lung capacity of a man," says Tito, who is proud of his art but resentful at the price he has paid for it. "I had once witnessed a virtuoso performance by the great Farnelli in Naples. During his arias, all eyes were glued to his face and gestures...Some of the women, and even a few of the men, seemed transported by sensation...They appeared nothing short of enraptured."
The best thing about Beverle Graves Myers' riveting first mystery, which involves the poisoning of a beautiful, aging opera star and the charging of Ravello with the crime, is how quickly we slip into the world she has so expertly re-created, despite its distance and initial oddness. It's a world where castrati-bashing by gangs of louts on the street (and verbal insults by solid citizens behind closed doors) is a fact of life, where a government would rather have fast action than slowtruth, where a powerful businessman buys and sells people along with his other trade goods. Sound like any place you know?" — Dick Adler, Chicago Tribune (3.21.04)