I absolutely love murder mysteries set in convents. Blame it on my Catholic school upbringing; the secret lives of nuns have always fascinated me, and reading a novel about all the drama and intrigue that could lead to a murder within convent walls is just extra fascinating.
So The Darkest Sin hooked me immediately. Set in 16th century Florence? Extra drama! The Catholic Church was an even more powerful part of everyday people’s lives back then, so how would this setting influence the mystery? The person murdered in the convent was a man? Intrigue to the max! What was a man doing inside the convent?
And then as I read, the story drew me in even more deeply. I loved the protagonist, Officer Cesare Aldo and his co-worker / protegee Constable Carlo Strocchi, I loved their friendship and mentor/mentee relationship, and while they investigate separate crimes in this novel, there’s a wonderfully complex subplot about a strain on their friendship that just got me right in the feels. I felt for Aldo being unable to be with the man he loves, all because of societal prejudices, and there are tons of callbacks to plot points that I presume happened in the previous book, City of Vengeance. D.V. Bishop has crafted beautifully rich characters and.a complex world, and I was hooked all the way through.
The story follows two murder mysteries: Aldo investigates the dead man in the convent, and Strocchi investigates a dead body in the river. Both victims turn out to be horrible, unpleasant men, and I love how Aldo and Strocchi grapple with that. They’re committed to justice, because that’s their jobs, but when the killing is done by someone trapped in super complex and difficult circumstances, what would justice actually demand? It’s not so much a question of if killing can ever be justified, but rather, are there circumstances where punishing the killer may not actually be the just move? The characters’ stances are clear, but the questions remain for the reader to puzzle through ourselves.
I did also get all the intrigue I wanted from convent mysteries. The story delves into the politics within the Church — the abbey and the prioress are at odds over the future direction of the convent; the archbishop wants to shut the convent down; and the monsignor investigating the crime on behalf of the church just wants to check his boxes. I love how these politics dovetail with the intra-office politics of the courts — Aldo and Strocchi’s boss is a petty, small-minded man on a power trip, and while bad bosses suck in real life, they can be super entertaining in fiction! There’s also a lot about class differences and anti-Semitism and all sorts of other social issues that bring the story to life.
It’s a fascinating book, and given the way it ended, I’m curious where D.V. Bishop will take the story in Book 3.
Thank you to Publisher’s Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.