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by Giulio Leoni and Anne Milano Appel, translator
Harvest Books, February 2008
335 pages
ISBN: 0156032686

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's the 1300s in Florence, Italy and the summer heart is plaguing the city. The famous poet Dante has been made Prior of the city and one night he is called upon to investigate a murder at a church that is being rebuilt. At the scene of the crime he finds that the famous master mosaicist Ambrogio has been killed right beneath his latest artwork.

Because so much is going on in the city there is a curfew that, it seems, no one is taking seriously. When Dante hears that there is a group of scholars who meet in the city and that they are soon going to be forming a new university, he wonders who exactly is behind these men financially. It might be groups who are intent in taking over the city from the latest side in power and he means to find out. But then he also discovers that the murdered man, Ambrogio, was also a member of this group, and the question of who murdered him isn't as important to Dante as the question of why he was killed.

Dante makes sure he is introduced to the group of scholars, who call themselves, the Third Heaven, and at the same time he is also discovers the reason they meet in a tavern. A hauntingly beautiful dancer named Antilia entertains the people there and Dante soon finds himself deeply attracted to her.

THE MOSAIC CRIMES is a beautifully written book as it describes what 14th century Florence looked like to Dante. The readers feel the heat and crowded vibrancy of the city, both during the daylight and the dark night hours. We also learn about the power of the Church and the rules that oppressed the people at that time, including the Inquisition. There is also a lot of history of Italy thrown into the story.

But unfortunately, that's where this book lost me.

Most of the excitement of this story is non-existent. The investigation that Dante gets into isn't so much to find the murderer, but to really discover the reason for the killing and its political ramifications. Because I know nothing about the period, the writer's theories about what influenced the times didn't make much of an impression on me. I wasn't particularly interested in his ideas on how what happened then connects to what happens in the future. The readers aren't made to care about the murdered man at all so we have no deep feelings about finding the guilty party for his sake. On top of that Dante is also not portrayed as a likable person. On the contrary, he is shown to be pompous, full of himself and petty and so readers don't even care if he is harmed by anyone.

Well written with beautiful prose and great descriptions, THE MOSAIC CRIMES is more of a historical drama than a who done it. It's more for fans of history than mystery.

Reviewed by A.L. Katz, March 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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