Tuesday, March 23, 2021


CITY OF VENGEANCE by DV Bishop (Pan MacMillan, 2021)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Florence. Winter, 1536. A prominent Jewish moneylender is murdered in his home, a death with wide implications in a city powered by immense wealth.

Cesare Aldo, a former soldier and now an officer of the Renaissance city’s most feared criminal court, is given four days to solve the murder: catch the killer before the feast of Epiphany – or suffer the consequences.

During his investigations Aldo uncovers a plot to overthrow the volatile ruler of Florence, Alessandro de’ Medici. If the Duke falls, it will endanger the whole city. But a rival officer of the court is determined to expose details about Aldo’s private life that could lead to his ruin. Can Aldo stop the conspiracy before anyone else dies, or will his own secrets destroy him first?

I'd heard a bit about this debut historical novel for a couple of years, so I was stoked to finally get my hands on a copy earlier this year. While DV Bishop is a first-time crime writer, he has a long history as a storyteller in comics, on radio and onscreen, and in a variety of other novels. That, combined with the fascinating 'backcover blurb', had me salivating. 

Verdict? CITY OF VENGEANCE is an excellent read that exceeded my high expectations. The kind of book that has you clamouring for the next from the author, and hoping the gap won't be too long. 

We're introduced to Cesare Aldo, a rather remarkable character, in an action-packed opening where he fends off an attack from bandits and saves the life of Jewish moneylender Samuele Levi as the pair are travelling through the countryside back to Florence. But while Aldo gets Levi safely back to the city, despite some near misses, he didn't lengthen the man's life for long. Soon after their return, Levi is murdered in his own home, and Aldo finds himself caught up in a troubling investigation. 

Matters are further complicated by another murder: a young man dressed as a courtesan who gets so badly battered by two men in an alleyway that he later dies. For some reason, the ruler of Florence  Alessandro de’ Medici takes an early and immediate interest in the case, questioning Aldo's boss at the Otto di Guardia e Balia about it even before the 'attempted' is removed from the 'murder'. When news of the moneylender's murder breaks, the Duke ramps up the pressure even more on his criminal court. 

Why the pressure to uncover the culprit before the feast of Epiphany that week? 

As Aldo investigates, he uncovers signs of a conspiracy against the Duke – but who is behind any planned coup? Meanwhile, the brutal death of the young man in an alley threatens to reveal dangerous secrets and upend many lives, including Aldo’s own. 

Bishop has crafted a sumptuous historical thriller that blends pacy storytelling with richly drawn characters and a fascinating setting brought wonderfully to life in a really vivid and sensory way. 

At the heart of CITY OF VENGEANCE is Cesare Aldo, an intriguing protagonist who is a man of the law who is breaking the law (of the times). A man giving all of himself to a regime and superiors that could see him imprisoned or worse if his secret came to light. His sexuality is a Sword of Damocles. 

In a strange way, I think there's a bit of Harry Bosch in Cesare Aldo (the iconic protagonist from Michael Connelly's outstanding series in modern Los Angeles) - in that Aldo is an honourable man that is full of some contradictions, who loves his city and is determined to protect its people, even as he stands a bit apart and is fully aware of all the flaws in the place he loves and protects. 

Bishop takes readers deep into the court intrigue and power plays of Renaissance Florence. 

We soak into the grandeur and grime of the sixteenth century city where a modern tourist spot like Ponte Vecchio was then awash with blood and offal every evening thanks to its butcher shops, and many rulers terms were cut short thanks to the machinations of those closest to them. 

Everything is interwoven so wonderfully - characters, setting, storylines. 

CITY OF VENGEANCE is a triumph of a first crime novel. I opened the book with high expectations, and closed it after a wonderful ride, keen to read more from Cesare Aldo and DV Bishop. 

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed Kiwi lawyer who now lives in London and writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at festivals on three continents. Craig's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, McIlvanney Prize, is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His book SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020.

No comments:

Post a Comment