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In the City of Dark Waters
Claude Monet Mystery, No. 2

by Jane Jakeman

      It is Venice 1918... Revel Callender has taken a sabbatical year abroad as a brief escape from his law practice in London. The family gives him an ancient lineage with a tumbledown castle, Damson Castle, but the family has no money. He will have to make a successful career for himself. He has had an interest in art since boyhood and spends the year visiting the museums and art treasures and perhaps trying art for himself. He supplements his money by giving advice to English travelers. One of his clients, Clementine Marshall, is on tour of Italy with her companion. Clementine is smitten with a dashing Venetian "nobleman" who stole her jewelry.

British consul, Theseus Barton, on behalf of the British government requests Callender to look into the financial records of the Principessa Casimiri, married to Count Roberto. She is a member of the wealthy British Maloney banking family. She is a hermaphrodite hidden away from the family. When Callender arrives at the Palazzi Casimiri he finds the Principessa has died. The Count asks him to look through her papers. Before Callender makes much progress the Count dies under very bizarre circumstances and the family cancels his work. The atmosphere of the Palazzi is a sinister one and Calllender fears for the safety of young Clara Casimiri with whom he has become attracted.

In the meantime artist Claude Monet has requested Callender"s services to look into the investigation of the murder in Paris of Monet's brother-in-law, Auguste who was stabbed fifteen times. Monet and his wife, Alice, have fled to Venice to escape the trial of the murderers. Callender's search into the facts of the case leads him to believe that the two servants arrested and being tried for the murder are innocent and that the murderer is one of the family.

He finds a close parallel between the murder of the Count and a little known play, The Cenci, by English poet Shelley. The play is set in 16th century Italy and the plot closely resembles the current murder of the Count.

The plot is a complex one, with two themes, separate but connected. It is a tale of incest and torture, filled with a number of unlikable characters. The contrast between the atmospheres of Venice and London is remarkable: the light, sun and warmth of Venice versus the dark and cold of London. The conflict between the decadent world of the old Venetian aristocracy as represented by the Casimiri and the new world of a united Italy as represented by young Dr. Albrizzi is well presented. The struggle of Monet to protect his wife, Alice, from her debilitating illness and to capture the beauty, light and color of Venice is in his paintings before he loses his eyesight is a powerful one.

The Book

Berkley Prime Crime
May 2, 2006
Historical Mystery [Venice and Paris 1918]
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The Reviewer

Barbara Buhrer
Reviewed 2006
© 2006