Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklySpying, torture, poisoning and strangulation are all part of the daily routine in the malevolent court of Gian-Francesco Gonzaga and his devious wife, Isabella d'Este, Marquesa of Mantua. The year is 1499, and Leonardo da Vinci is at court to paint the Marquesa's portrait, but steadily and without his full knowledge he is drawn into a hazardous web of schemes involving the perpetually warring city-states of Milan, Mantua and Venice. Following Herman's A Comedy of Murders, the novel frequently bogs down in tedious explanations of the era's labyrinthine politics. At the heart of the intrigue lies a priceless diamond necklace (The Tears of the Madonna), stolen from a murdered courier and now inexplicably appearing simultaneously on the necks of Lucretia Borgia in Rome, Isabella d'Este in Mantua and Caterina Sforza in Imola. The bankers' guild of Venice, needing the necklace as loan collateral, uses the multitalented dwarf Niccolo (witty, scholarly, lecherous and an invaluable aide to Leonardo) as their spy in the Gonzaga court. Leonardo applies his skills at logic, forensic medicine and pharmacology to solve many of the nasty doings. This book sorely needs more Leonardo and Niccolo and far less convoluted politics. (Mar.)
Library JournalHerman constructs a vibrant re-creation of warring city-states and corrupt popes in Renaissance Italy. As in A Comedy of Murders (Carroll & Graf, 1994), Leonardo da Vinci and friend Niccolo become involved in political intrigue. Their mission centers around a missing necklace, valuable both as a symbol of power and as collateral for a large loan. The scenes reveal tantalizing glimpses of historical personalities and places. A treat for historical mystery lovers.
Margaret FlanaganLeonardo da Vinci and Niccolo the dwarf return to solve another mystery steeped in petty rivalries and political intrigue. When a courier is cruelly beheaded and a priceless diamond necklace is apparently stolen from their patroness, Leonardo and Niccolo begin to suspect the crimes were staged to conceal the fact that the jewels were actually clever counterfeits. As the maestro and his resourceful sidekick continue to investigate, they unravel an intricate web of deceit and double cross involving the notorious Cesare Borgia and the courts of several noble Italian families. Herman's characters are delightfully drawn and his depiction of Renaissance Italy as a loose confederation of fractious city-states beset by both feuds and foreign imperialism is right on target. Another fine blend of history and mystery from the author of "A Comedy of Murders" (1994).
Kirkus ReviewsIn the second of a series (begun with A Comedy of Murders, 1994), the setting is once again Renaissance Italy and the sleuths are Leonardo da Vinci and his more than worthy sidekick, the learned dwarf Niccolo. When a courier is savagely murdered and the (title) object in his keeping stolen, Leonardo, having fled French- occupied Milan, is summoned to Mantua to investigate whether those crimes were, as is suspected, the work of "the driving force behind the courts of Italy . . . Women." He and the irrepressible Niccolo discover avarice and worse in the hearts of every Borgia and Borgia-like nobleman (and -woman)as well as complicated intrigue lurking in every palazzoduring a journey that also leads to Venice during "carnivale" and to a climactic encounter in the Street of the Assassins. It takes a while for Herman to link his novel's opening episode with subsequent events and all characters, but once the plot gets rolling it gathers real momentum. His prose glitters with wit, featuring dozens of sophisticated conversational exchanges, and his knowledge of the period's art, architecture, geography, and social history seem impeccable. The thoughtful, cautious Leonardo is a completely believable creationand Herman ingeniously employs his hero's knowledge of the anatomy to help solve the mystery. It's a virtual embarrassment of riches when we recognize graceful allusions to Guy de Maupassant and Sherlock Holmes.
A delight in what we hope will be an ongoing series.
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