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Mystery Monday – Murder in Venice

Murder in Venice by Thomas Sterling

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


Victorian and Edwardian mystery writers often set stories in atmospheric Italy. John Meade Falkner set The Lost Stradivarius in the notorious city of Naples to showcase those paganistical Italians, about whose Catholic festivals an English character sniffs, “I cannot, however, conceive of any truly religious person countenancing such a gathering, which seemed to me rather like the unclean orgies of a heathen deity than an act of faith of Christian people.”

In 1878 Wilkie Collins released the novel of sensation, The Haunted Hotel, A Mystery of Modern Venice. Much of the action takes place in a dilapidated palace, which is the same colorful setting as the 1955 novel on review here Murder in Venice a.k.a. The Evil of the Day.

Rich but aging Cecil Fox summons three friends from the past to his dazzling manse in Venice.  Anson Sims is a miser, Henry Voltor trades on his family name, and wealthy Mrs. Sheridan keeps anxiety at bay with constant travel and tyranny over her companion and all other service providers. All three are greedy to inherit Fox’s millions. So in true Venetian style they parry, thrust, and stab among themselves in order to get in position to scoop up the money, manse, and furnishings. Just think of how the Venetians looted the Byzantines and you’ve got it.

Fox hires a male secretary William Fieramosca to manage the party with the three greed-heads and the comely companion Celia Johns. One of Fox’s guests dies during the night. The mystery is very deep, the detecting negligible. Sterling’s description of rooms, furniture, pictures, the canals and gardens is the main attraction. The ultimate praise: The moody and distinctive ambiance made me want to visit Venice, something I’d little interest in doing before I read this novel.

Anthony Boucher, mystery writer and critic for the New York Times said in a review of this novel, “There is the opulent atmosphere of an ancient city erected upon wealth and death. There is prose as witty and subtle as it is sharp and clear. There are characters unconventionally conceived and richly bodied forth. This is, in short, a novel to be treasured.” Boucher, I think, was generous in his reviews of fellow writers but he did not over-sell.











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