The Tears of the Madonna

George Herman, Author
George Herman, Author Carroll & Graf Publishers $22.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-7867-0243-5
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Spying, torture, poisoning and strangulation are all part of the daily routine in the malevolent court of Gian-Francesco Gonzaga and his devious wife, Isabella d'Este, Marquesa of Mantua. The year is 1499, and Leonardo da Vinci is at court to paint the Marquesa's portrait, but steadily and without his full knowledge he is drawn into a hazardous web of schemes involving the perpetually warring city-states of Milan, Mantua and Venice. Following Herman's A Comedy of Murders, the novel frequently bogs down in tedious explanations of the era's labyrinthine politics. At the heart of the intrigue lies a priceless diamond necklace (The Tears of the Madonna), stolen from a murdered courier and now inexplicably appearing simultaneously on the necks of Lucretia Borgia in Rome, Isabella d'Este in Mantua and Caterina Sforza in Imola. The bankers' guild of Venice, needing the necklace as loan collateral, uses the multitalented dwarf Niccolo (witty, scholarly, lecherous and an invaluable aide to Leonardo) as their spy in the Gonzaga court. Leonardo applies his skills at logic, forensic medicine and pharmacology to solve many of the nasty doings. This book sorely needs more Leonardo and Niccolo and far less convoluted politics. (Mar.)
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