Five years after the murder of his favorite son, Juan, Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, drags Damiata, Juan's mistress, out of hiding and sends her off to gather evidence against the condottieri, believed to be responsible for the murder. Damiata herself is suspected by the Pope, so as assurance for her good behavior he keeps her son, Giovanni, hostage. Arriving in Imola, the seat of Cesare Borgia's army where negotiations with the condottieri are underway, she finds that more horrible murders have been committed. She meets Niccolo Machiavelli, a Florentine diplomat, and together they investigate the murders, hoping to prove the condottieri guilty. Another famous Renaissance personage, Leonardo DaVinci, is also investigating the murders. They join forces trying to determine the significance of the geometric design made by the burial of the body parts at various points around Imola. As the investigation procedes so does the attraction between Damiata and Machiavelli.
The book is well researched and presents a lively picture of the political situation in Italy in the 1500's. War was a constant with the condottieri, professional soldiers, fighting first for one side then the other. At the opening of the story, the condottieri are aligned against the Pope and Cesare, commander of the papal armies, is trying to negotiate a deal. I found it quite fascinating.
The historical characters are not as I had envisioned them. Leonardo comes across as an absent minded professor; Machiavelli, as the young lover. However, it works well enough in the novel.
My main criticism is the amount of pages it takes to solve the mystery of who murdered Juan. To me it was fairly obvious from early in the book, particularly since Damiata consistently flogs the hypothesis that it has to be the condottieri and doesn't listen to anything else. In my opinion, the chase went on too long, but I admit I kept on reading to find how the author would unveil the murderer.
This is a well done book. There's something for everyone: romance, mystery, murder, and history. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or even a good murder mystery.
I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program