Pistols! Treason! Murder!: The Rise and Fall of a Master Spy

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The year is 1622. Anxiety is high in the city of Venice. Rumors of treason flourish. The noble Antonio Foscarini stands accused and pays the ultimate price. Gerolamo Vano, General of Spies, provides the evidence. But who is really guilty? By the end of the year, Vano is swinging from the gallows in Piazza San Marco, while Foscarini is absolved posthumously. Pistols! Treason! Murder! uncovers the shadowy world of seventeenth-century espionage and the truth behind the most infamous miscarriage of justice in the history of Venice.

Including vividly illustrated comic strips, accounts of the author's bar tour around contemporary Venice, and painstaking detective work, Jonathan Walker’s story of the rise and fall of a master spy is compelling and highly original.

In untangling the career of the master spy Vano, Walker invites the reader into the historian's task of piecing together evidence from incomplete archival sources, making sense of motives, coming to terms with the story, and knowing when the job is done. Aspiring historians will find the methods Walker used to uncover this fascinating story invaluable in their own historical quests.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of Modern History
Walker blazes an important new path, and for this historians of the early modern world are much in his debt.

— Elizabeth Horodowich

Internet Review of Books - Loretta Carrico-Russell

A fascinating read for anyone interested in the seventeenth century, in Italy, or in the history of the spy business in general.

Guardian - P.D. Smith

In this highly original study, Walker uses conventional narrative together with comic-book graphics, varied type-faces, interview transcripts and quotes from contemporary plays to explore the process of history writing.

Renaissance Quarterly - Thomas V. Cohen

Walker's diagnosis of the Venetian underworld is canny and his trespasses across the boundaries between author and subject lighthearted and fun.

Journal of Modern History - Elizabeth Horodowich

Walker blazes an important new path, and for this historians of the early modern world are much in his debt.

Library Journal
Strip away the whiz bangs here—comic-strip sequences, chapters in which the author and friends meet in cafés to talk over their obsession with the past, time-sequence photographs of a flintlock firing—and this is first-rate history, just of a different kind. The flashy stuff works here, with an effect similar to that of Michael Lesy's groundbreaking 1973 Wisconsin Death Trip, where Lesy's pictorial editing forced the reader to look at events a second time, catching nuances that might otherwise have been missed. Walker (research fellow, Univ. of Sydney) describes an incident of spying in 1622 Venice. A master spy, Gerolamo Vano, presents evidence that leads to a Venetian nobleman's hanging on charges of espionage. Five months later, Vano himself is executed for falsifying evidence, and the nobleman is absolved posthumously. But this book isn't just about Vano, about whose machinations the evidence is spotty. It's as much or more a reflection on how one approaches the historical record: how to exhume a coherent narrative from uneven, desultory, and usually self-serving reports. VERDICT This book will infuriate as many scholars as it excites, but it is original, well written, and good. It should intrigue anyone who likes reading history.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801893704
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,315,998
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Walker is a senior research fellow in the Department of History at the University of Sydney. Together with Dan Hallett, he has recently finished an "illuminated novel," Five Wounds, which will be published in 2010. He is also working on a photographic essay on Venice entitled Let Us Burn the Gondolas: Venice as a Modern City.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Map of the Italian States ix

Map of Modern Venice x

Facts xi

1 Between the Columns-sets the scene 1

2 Why Vano Matters-identifies the man responsible for a famous miscarriage of justice 4

3 Dissection/Resurrection-compares historians with pathologists and mediums 12

4 The Hero-provides more information on our protagonist 14

5 Idiolect-celebrates Vano's peculiar writing style 19

6 Odd One Out-comments on Vano's use of repetitive motifs 22

7 Caffe Rosso, 7.00 p.m.-dialogue: Why were the Venetians afraid of the Spanish? 26

8 The File-describes our major source, Vano's spy reports 34

9 The Inquisitors of State-introduces Vano's employers 39

10 Diplomacy-contains basic information on seventeenth-century embassies and diplomats 43

11 Honour Among Spies-two men die to advance Vano's career 47

12 Da Baffo, 8.45 p.m.-dialogue: What could you buy with a ducat, and how much did spies earn? 65

13 Rivals-compares Vano's career with that of other spies active in seventeenth-century Venice 73

14 Alchemy-Vano turns lead into gold 88

15 Winks and Blinks-discusses the relationship between signal and noise in spy reports 92

16 Special Delivery-analyses the subtexts of two spy reports 97

17 Fiddler's Elbow Irish Pub, 11.00 p.m.-dialogue: Were ordinary people aware of spies? 100

18 Running Alternatives-explores the hidden connections between an attempted assassination and a convoluted conversation 107

19 Trace-suggests that walking and reading are related activities, and analyses the handwriting of some of our protagonists 122

20 Paradiso Perduto, 12.05 a.m.-dialogue: What is missing from spy reports? 130

21 Street Theatre-compares spying withmelodrama 135

22 Desire-considers spying as a form of seduction 141

23 2 + 2 = 5-the noble Antonio Foscarini is unjustly condemned to death 143

24 Da Aldo, 1.10 a.m.-dialogue: Were the Venetians good at spying? 161

25 Spying and Modernity-Vano is revealed as a key figure for understanding the latter condition 170

26 I Spy, with My Little Eye-draws some preliminary conclusions 176

27 Interrupted Sentences-Vano dies, and questions remain unanswered 178

28 Pistols! Treason! Murder!-the clock is turned back, and Vano enjoys one last triumph, while Giulio Cazzari prophesies his own death, and thereby brings it about 181

29 Legacy-Foscarini has a street named after him, and Vano does not 200

30 General of Spies-Vano is unofficially promoted 203

31 Doctor Frankenstein-everybody dies 206

Cast of Characters 208

A Note on Conventions 212

About the Illustrations 214

Acknowledgements 215

Select Bibliography 217

Notes 227

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