DV Bishop returns to 16th Century Florence in the third of his Cesare Aldo crime novels. Ritual of Fire follows closely on the events and implications of the second book of the series The Darkest Sin. Once again, DV Bishop draws on the history of the city, including the ongoing impact of the rise and fall of the priest Savanarola forty years before.
When Ritual of Fire opens, Aldo is working as a local law enforcement officer in the country a couple of hours east of Florence. Meanwhile, his ex-partner Stocchi is given a poisoned chalice of a promotion by the Secretary of the Otto when the body of a man is found burnt to death in one of the city squares. In a city gripped by heat and drought, proclamations foreshadowing the return of Savanarola and further deaths by fire, start to rile the populace. Meanwhile in the countryside, a banished Aldo gets drawn into some strange happenings that seem to connect to the troubles in the city.
From the opening book, City of Vengeance, Bishop has effectively anchored the action around his two flawed but engaging detectives. Cesare Aldo, the ex-soldier and dogged investigator whose sexual orientation would make him an outcast, and Stocchi, the young constable who started as wide-eyed and naïve but is quickly discovering that nothing is ever black and white, particularly in a city as corrupt as Florence. The pair, and the way Bishop has them interacting over the three books to date, are a great example of the seasoned detective with the young sidekick trope exemplified in series like Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn and Chee novels and Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series.
In Ritual of Fire, Bishop delivers another pitch perfect and atmospheric historical crime novel in a series that has quickly become a must-read. This book also wraps up some ongoing storylines that have woven through the first three books of what is shaping up to be a must-read long running series.