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The Book of Unholy Mischief

by Elle Newmark


Young Luciano is a street child, living a wretched hand-to-mouth existence on the mean streets of Venice.  One day he steals a pomegranate—and his life changes, for master chef Ferrero rescues him and makes him his apprentice.  Ferrero is chef to the Doge himself, and Luciano cannot help noticing that his food has an interesting effect on people.  He also cannot help noticing that everybody seems to be hunting for an ancient book, which is said to hold the secret to whatever one most desires.

Told in Luciano’s own words, this tale hits the ground running.  From then on, it is not quite the breathless adventure promised but there is always something going on.  It is not an easy book to classify, "historical adventure" being the most apt way of describing this tale of cooking, intrigue and growing up.  For this is as much a coming of age story as anything else, with Luciano learning what it takes to be a good man as well as a good chef.  Purists expecting (or hoping) for that rara avis, the perfectly researched historical novel, might find this book overfull of potatoes, cacao and even the mention of a kangaroo, but then there is a whiff of fantasy about this as well.  Ultimately I was left thinking I opened the book expecting one thing (a Da Vinci Code style adventure about a mythical book) and got something else (a coming of age story about cookery).  But like the book everyone is looking for, nothing is quite what it seems; and even without the benefit of some editing this tome still contains an engaging story.

The Book

Doubleday (Transworld UK)
12 March 2009
Trade Paperback
038561537X / 9780385615372
Historical Adventure / 1498 Venice, Italy
More at US || UK
NOTE: US edition is different

The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2009
© 2009