Another Review at MyShelf.Com

Publisher: Forge (Tom Doherty Associates)
Release Date: September 2003
ISBN: 0765300206
Format Reviewed: Hardback
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Genre: Historical Crime [1502, Ferrara, Italy]
Reviewed: 2003
Reviewer: Rachel A Hyde
Reviewer Notes: Review 2

Lucretia Borgia & The Mother of Poisons
By Roberta Gellis 

     When I heard that this novel was going to feature Lucretia Borgia solving a murder, I anticipated something of a comic romp, with tongue-in-cheek humor and plenty of gothic extravagance. While the latter is often entertaining (consider Paul Doherty) the former seldom is, in my opinion, so it was with great delight that I discovered that actually neither was present. I shouldn't have worried; having read various other novels by Roberta Gellis and in particular, her Magdalene la Batarde trilogy (books two and three are also reviewed on this site) I ought to have realized that I was in for a historically realistic treat. Lucretia has just married the heir to the Duke of Ferrara and is determined to make the best of what appears to be a bad job. Firstly, her husband Alfonso does not love her, then she has had her own ladies-in-waiting sent back to Rome and a bevy of penniless Ferrarese women foisted upon her whom she is expected to support. To cap it all, one of them is murdered, and Alfonso accuses her in public of being a poisoner, which is the last thing she wants after her reputation in Rome. The only solution seems to be to attempt to find out who killed Bianca Tedaldo herself.

     Lucretia here is a surprisingly engaging heroine, sinned against by her family, but resolute enough to make the most of her lot. Intelligent and lively, she has the unenviable task of trying to interest and manage her fiery husband and stingy father-in-law and get to the bottom of the murder. This is not merely a convincing portrayal of a tough woman in a man's world, but a teasingly plotted mystery and, most delightful of all, a story that wraps up the reader in the period. Roberta Gellis has done her homework here and presents a convincing picture of an intrigue-ridden and formal court, populated by believable characters that seem suitable for the time. It is perhaps true that a little more excitement might have been in order, particularly near the beginning when Lucretia has to question people again and again, but even this adds to the realism. At times, it almost appears to be taking place in real time, which adds a topicality to the work in the light of the hugely popular TV serial 24. There is a lot of reading in this novel and much to enjoy: I do hope that it is the first part of a new series, and I particularly look forward to Lucretia's fascinating relationship with Alfonso, which has a hint of the Arabian Nights about it. Highly recommended.

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