Don’t need to say much more than Florence…aah, Florence…
Readers who like their historical mysteries with even more history than usual will enjoy Tasha Alexander’s latest Lady Emily mystery, The Dark Heart of Florence, set in the years leading up to World War I. Britain and Germany are starting to bump elbows, and as an agent for the British government, Lady Emily’s husband, Colin, is in the thick of things. Only this time, the thick of things is in Florence, where Colin’s newly-found daughter, Kat, has conveniently inherited a palazzo. After a bit of dysfunctional maneuvering, because Colin isn’t supposed to share government information with his wife, the pair head to Florence, picking up Lady Emily’s friend, Cecile, on the way. Oh – and in addition to the spy stuff going on, there might be a hidden treasure somewhere in Kat’s palazzo too.
And that’s where the historical mystery within the historical mystery starts. Author Alexander has woven a second story in and around the first. This one features Mina, a young Florentine girl who chafes at the restrictions placed on women in the mid-to-late 1400s, and treasures her rare chances to stretch her mind, encouraged by her grandfather. Florence in the 1400s was one of the great centers of the Renaissance, so readers get to meet many of the notables of the day (both good and bad) along with Mina – Botticelli, the de Medici’s, Savonarola, and others. In fact, the city itself almost feels like another character. And eventually the two story lines do tie together.
Much as with Alexander’s previous “story-within-a-story” book, In the Shadow of Vesuvius, I liked both of the story lines. I might have preferred to read them separately though – I kept getting into one, only to have the narrative flip to the other one. Alexander seems to have made a bit of a habit of the “story-within-a-story” recently, but I think I’d prefer to have the focus stay on the main characters: Lady Emily and Colin, and their family and friends. (Kat, anyone?) Even with these minor issues, I still enjoyed the book a lot, and my four-star rating is a solid “read” recommendation, since I keep five-stars for a very very few books – maybe one in thirty or forty that I read. But I sort of hope that the series returns to Lady Emily stand-alones in the future.
Finally, I’d like to express my thanks to the publisher, Minotaur Books, and to NetGalley, for the advance review copy.
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And see my review of the previous title, In the Shadow of Vesuvius, here.