The Medici Murders started out intriguing enough: retired archivist Arnold Clover is tasked to help solve the murder of Marmaduke Godolphin, a British TV historian with a bold new claim about the truth behind Lorenzino de Medici’s assassination in 1548 Venice.
Unfortunately, the book didn’t really work for me. Most of the story is told in flashback: Arnold telling the lead detective about the events leading up to Duke’s death. This slowed down the pace considerably, and even though the book is relatively short (less than 300 pages), it felt long. There was a point late in the novel when I realized Duke hadn’t even been killed yet, and I was tempted to skip ahead to see how much longer I had to go till it happened.
Part of the problem, I think, is that the book splits its time between two deaths: that of Duke Godolphin and that of Lorenzino de Medici. The motive behind the present-day murder may have its roots in the 16th century one, because Duke had called all of his nearest and dearest (also all those with the most reason to want him dead) to Venice with him to reveal his latest theory about Medici’s death. The theory is certainly bold enough; even I, a non-historian, had heard of the person Duke believes actually masterminded Medici’s death. Unfortunately, apart from the initial dramatic (and comedic) reveal, there’s little drama behind the historical mystery.
Unlike, say, The Da Vinci Code where I was flipping pages at super-speed trying to get through all the various clues and conspiracy theories (admittedly, Dan Brown pens a wild and far-fetched ride), most of the characters in this book dismiss Duke’s theory almost immediately. Some characters mention elements that could prove him right, and there actually is a document among the archives that may be definitive proof, but overall, these clues are brought up in conversation with an almost academic slant. Worse, they’re brought up as Arnold recounting to the detective conversations he’s had with other characters, and while thoughtfulness is a good trait for an archivist, it doesn’t make for a very exciting narrator.
Still, despite all that, there were quite a number of suspects who had reasons to want Duke dead. And thanks to an evening masquerade and some drinking, many of those suspects’ alibis were pretty thin. So even though the pace was slow, I was still interested to see which of them killed the man. I won’t give any spoilers here, but the big reveal absolutely infuriated me. I had started out liking the detective enough, but this reveal just totally turned me against her, and the utterly unnecessary actions she decided to take in solving this case.
Worse, this big reveal happens with several chapters still to come, and it turns out the main mystery wasn’t so much Duke’s death as the identity of the mastermind behind his fall from grace. I do acknowledge the parallels with Medici’s story, in that the identity of the assassin isn’t as much the point as the identity of the mastermind, and I guess that’s what the author was going for. I’ll also admit that I didn’t guess the identity of the present-day mastermind, which is testament to the author’s skill at keeping the reader in the dark. Unfortunately, by that point, I also didn’t much care who had orchestrated Duke’s downfall. The mystery of the stiletto in his chest interested me more, and the reveal around that fell flat.
Overall, this book fell flat for me. Too much focus on historical details that unfortunately didn’t find anywhere near as interesting as the characters did, and not enough actually happening in the story. Still, readers who enjoy digging through archives may geek out over Arnold as a series detective, and readers interested in this period of Italian history may be eager to explore a new potential theory around Medici’s death.
Thank you to Publisher’s Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.