Screenwriter DV Bishop won a Pitch Perfect competition at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival for his idea for a historical crime novel. This idea was based on historical research into criminal justice and crime in Renaissance Florence but also the history of the Machiavellian power plays in the city of Florence. These have all come together in an engaging historical procedural debut City of Vengeance.
Cesare Aldo is a member of the Otto, Florence’s magistracy, responsible for investigating crime and enforcing law in the city. When City of Vengeance opens, Aldo is using his experience as a soldier to protect a Samuele Levi, a Jewish moneylender, from bandits on the road from Bologna to Florence. But not long after their return to the city Levi is killed anyway and Aldo is tasked by the Duke Alessandro de’ Medici to investigate. At the same time, one of his colleagues, Strocchi, is investigating the killing of a courtesan, a young man who dressed as a woman and kept a diary of the powerful men who he slept with. This set up is constructed within the true historical story of a plot to kill Alessandro de’Medici and destabilise Florence.
Cesare Aldo is a classic noir detective cast in a historical setting. Carrying injuries and a dangerous backstory, he is also determined to get to the truth no matter what or who gets in his way. He is also (fortunately) able to take significant amounts of punishment and keep on going as he has plenty of enemies, none worse than his corrupt colleague Cerchi, who is constantly trying to find ways to discredit him. But while Aldo is the main character, Bishop ranges across a number of point of view characters, in particular Strocchi, Levi’s daughter Rachel and Maria Salviati, mother of Cosimo, one of the Medici heirs and wife of Aldo’s former commander.
City of Vengeance gives a strong feeling of both time and place. Sixteenth century Florence, from the lowest brothel and bar, to the Ducal throneroom, to the debtors prison, come alive in Bishop’s hands. And he proves once again how effective crime fiction is as a vehicle for exploring particular moments in history. And while this is a procedural, it is one within the specific criminal justice system that was in effect in Florence at the time.
There is plenty of historical crime fiction around, some better than others. City of Vengeance is definitely on the better side, great setting, engaging characters and a crime story well told even within the confines of historical events (yes, you can get spoilers by looking up Alessandro de’Medici in Wikipedia). And it will be no surprise if Cesar Aldo is back sometime soon.