Stieg Larsson and CSI meet Renaissance Italy in Michael Ennis's ambitious The Malice of Fortune, in which Leonardo Da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli team up to investigate a series of grisly murders. All the victims are women; all are horribly mutilated. Anyone might be the next victim, including the beautiful golden-haired courtesan Damiata, with whom Machiavelli has fallen in love--and who guards a secret or two of her own.
The fictitious story in The Malice of Fortune occurs within a framework of documented historical events involving Duke Valentin--better known as the notorious Cesare Borgia, eldest son of Pope Alexander VI--and the treacherous brigand leaders who propose to help him conquer Italy. A treaty between Valentino and these leaders would mean certain doom for Florence, and that is how Machiavelli enters the story--as a low-level emissary sent by the council of Florence to stall its end of the negotiations as much as he can. Heightening the tension of his predicament is the reputation of these men for butchering innocents in the places they capture, often in unspeakable ways.
Damiata acts out of desperation to save her son from the clutches of Pope Alexander VI. Her child's father, the Pope's younger son, Juan Borgia, was brutally murdered by an unknown assailant--and Damiata is a suspect. Until she can prove her innocence, her son is held hostage in the Vatican. But Damiata's story is shrouded in uncertainty, and Machiavelli is tormented by the knowledge that he cannot fully trust her, even as their investigation into the murders plunges her increasingly into mortal danger. As the corpses pile up, a complex pattern begins to take shape--a message from the murderer so deviously encoded that Da Vinci, recently retained as Cesare's chief architect, must turn the full weight of his intellect to solving it.
Set in 1502, prior to the appearance of Machiavelli's most famous work, The Prince, The Malice of Fortune offers a possible scenario for its inspiration. As he studies the vicious handiwork and ingenuity of the killer--in a plot that veers from political intrigues to witchcraft in the Italian countryside--Machiavelli learns lessons about power that will someday be distilled into the pages of The Prince. This Machiavelli is not "Machiavellian" as the term is used today, but is instead a conflicted, heroic figure with a fascination for the complexities of human nature.
The plot of The Malice of Fortune contains innumerable twists that culminate in a memorable, suspenseful conclusion. --Ilana Teitelbaum
Shelf Talker: A complex serial killer thriller set in Renaissance Italy, starring such colorful figures as the Borgias, Leonardo Da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli.