cover image Three Fires

Three Fires

Denise Mina. Pegasus Crime, $22 (352p) ISBN 978-1-63936-455-8

Mina (Rizzio) fictionalizes the life of Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498), who was executed for heresy, in this vivid historical thriller. The novel opens in 1498 Florence, with Savonarola reading a coerced confession stating that he’s been lying about having the gift of prophecy. It then flashes back nearly 30 years, to when Savonarola’s hopes for marriage and a successful career as a physician are dashed, setting him on the path to religious fanaticism. Even readers who know what comes next— namely, the 1497 Bonfire of the Vanities, in which Savonarola and his followers burned books and clothes and other “extravagances” all across Florence—will be captivated by Mina’s lyricism (reading his confession to the assembled crowd, Savonarola sees “the dust motes swimming aimlessly in the warm air above their heads and imagines that each speck is an iota of faith leaving a person in the room”) and the insightful connections she draws between medieval ideological battles and 21st-century culture wars. This is a triumph. (Aug.)