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The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis
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The Malice of Fortune

by Michael Ennis

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It's 1502. Women are being murdered in the Romagna, and their deaths may hold the secret to a mystery that has plagued Pope Alexander VI: the brutal murder of his beloved son Juan, Duke of Gandia. Eager for revenge, he sends an agent north to find out more. The former courtesan Damiata arrives in the town of Imola, the headquarters of the Pope's second son Cesare, with a powerful motivation to succeed: her infant son is being kept as a hostage at the Borgia court. Yet she isn't the only one seeking the truth about these murders. Two others are also trying to identify the killer: one is the put-upon Florentine envoy, Niccolò Machiavelli; the other is Cesare's engineer-general, the Tuscan polymath Leonardo da Vinci.

It doesn't require much imagination to see why I was attracted by this novel. I'm not a big fan of historical murder mysteries, but I couldn't resist the idea of Machiavelli and Leonardo working together to solve a crime. The addition of Cesare Borgia simply added spice to the prospect. In the end, however, the book didn't quite live up to its promise. That's partly because the solution to the mystery was given away in one of the reviews I read - don't worry, I won't do that here. But it was also due to the rather stilted quality of the writing and to the fact the author presents this as a novel accurate in all its details, whereas in fact I feel there's a good proportion of creative interpretation going on here...

For the full review, please see my blog:
https://theidlewoman.net/2017/04/10/the-malice-of-fortune-michael-ennis ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Apr 9, 2017 |
First of all, I am not an expert on Renaissance Italy or the Borgias. However, this book seemed well-researched to me. I read Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince" years ago so I did have some parallels to make during the story. I liked the plotlines that followed Duke Valentino's rise to power. Loyalties were changed and good guys became bad guys, etc. This seemed real to the time period for me. I liked the ending and the inspiration for the story. The only thing that kept it from being a 5 star book for me was the fact that 1/4 of the book was written from one viewpoint and 3/4 was written from another. The author did not make the purpose for this method clear to me. However, this was an unedited copy that I won on Goodreads so the author might have changed this. If not, it was not so distracting that I couldn't enjoy the story anyway.
" ( )
  jguidry | May 31, 2016 |
I loved Ennis' "Duchess of Milan," was not so blown away by his other novel "Byzantium." Reading "Malice of Fortune," I think that his forte is Renaissance Italy. I really enjoyed this historical mystery.

Furious over the mysterious death of his beloved son, Pope Alexander Borgia blackmails the murdered Juan's former mistress, Damiata, into going to investigate the circumstances of his death. With the Pope holding her son hostage, and under suspicion herself, she has no choice.

Niccolo Machiavelli teams up with her, and as more and more mutilated bodies turn up around the city, even Leonardo Da Vinci gets involved, suspecting that the killer or killers are taunting him with a mathematical puzzle.

The challenge for the would-be detectives is not figuring out which of the many suspects could have committed such brutal crimes - most, if not all of the brutal condottierri lords are well known to be capable of atrocities. As far as motivation? Well, Juan was nearly universally disliked, both personally and politically.

I'm deducting a star because the whole serial-killer-creates-geometric-patterns-with-dead-bodies, in-which-a-clue-can-be-found plot, has been done until it does not need to be done any more. However, both Niccolo and Damiata are well-drawn and entertaining characters, and the story proceeds with a nice amount of complexity and thoughtfulness. An enjoyable read. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Very good historical mystery with most of the characters based in real people. Great theme of "science" (represented by di Vinci) vs psychology (represented by Machiavelli).

( )
  dham340 | May 10, 2015 |
Damiata, courtesan to the murdered Juan Borgia, favorite son of Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI) is being forced by the Pope, who is holding her 5-year-old son hostage at the Vatican, to find who ended his son’s life or be held ultimately responsible. Enlisting the help of Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci, Damiata races against time to save her son from the clutches of the Borgias. Ennis weaves together an excellent puzzle, worthy of the infamous characters brought to life in The Malice of Fortune. More than half the story is narrated by Machiavelli, giving the reader an intricate look into the workings of his mind and that of Cesare Borgia (aka Valentino), the subject of the classic work The Prince. With the opulence and the brutality of Renaissance Italy as a backdrop, you’re bound to find yourself completely entranced.

This review was originally written for Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore. ( )
  retropelocin | Dec 19, 2013 |
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Book description
Against a teeming canvas of Borgia politics, Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci come together to unmask an enigmatic serial killer, as we learn the secret history behind one of the most controversial works in the western canon, The Prince...
When Pope Alexander dispatches a Vatican courtesan, Damiata, to the remote fortress city of Imola to learn the truth behind the murder of Juan, his most beloved illegitimate son, she cannot fail, for the scheming Borgia pope holds her own young son hostage. Once there, Damiata becomes a pawn in the political intrigues of the pope’s surviving son, the charismatic Duke Valentino, whose own life is threatened by the condottieri, a powerful cabal of mercenary warlords. Damiata suspects that the killer she seeks is one of the brutal condottierri, and as the murders multiply, her quest grows more urgent. She enlists the help of an obscure Florentine diplomat, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Valentino’s eccentric military engineer, Leonardo da Vinci, who together must struggle to decipher the killer’s taunting riddles: Leonardo with his groundbreaking “science of observation” and Machiavelli with his new “science of men.” Traveling across an Italy torn apart by war, they will enter a labyrinth of ancient superstition and erotic obsession to discover at its center a new face of evil—and a truth that will shake the foundations of western civilization.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385536313, Hardcover)

An Exclusive Essay by Author Michael Ennis

Michael Ennis

I began The Malice of Fortune with the rather modest ambition of writing a novel that featured Machiavelli as a detective; perhaps he could use the precepts of The Prince to solve a crime. As I dove into my research, I soon took particular interest in the closing months of the year 1502, when Machiavelli was a junior Florentine diplomat at the court of Cesare Borgia, the celebrated "Duke Valentino," who at the time was playing this deadly political chess game against a cabal of mercenary warlords known as the condottieri--a bloody political drama that Machiavelli would later place at the very center of The Prince.

Although Valentino's court was located in the remote fortress city of Imola during those final months of 1502, it attracted all sorts of interesting and nefarious characters, among them the Duke's innovative military engineer, Leonardo da Vinci. And after a little more digging, I discovered some intriguing connections between Leonardo and Machiavelli: they both abruptly left Duke Valentino's court shortly after the end of the year, under circumstances that historians have never fully understood, and then worked quite closely together in Florence. So clearly some mysterious and fraught relationship developed between them in Imola.

Still thinking in terms of a detective story, I envisioned something akin to a Holmes & Holmes partnership. Leonardo, who famously dissected corpses, could be a Renaissance forensic pathologist. As for Machiavelli, his political science is so deeply rooted in the study of human nature that he can also be considered a pioneer in the field of psychology. In fact, I was rather startled to learn that at the time he was working on The Prince, Machiavelli wrote a friend that when he entered his study, he imagined himself physically in the presence of prominent figures from history: "I converse with them and interrogate them about the motives for their actions. And they answer me--I get inside them completely." This sounded so uncannily like a modern criminal profiler that I just couldn't resist pushing the detective conceit a step further.

So here I started searching for a crime, but one based entirely on documented fact; if Leonardo's and Machiavelli's forensic abilities could be found in their actual studies, the crime – and the criminal – had to be equally authentic. I pored over five hundred year old cold cases and instead of just one crime, I discovered an entire "crime cluster" that began with the murder of the Pope's son in Rome, followed by a horrifying litany of related abductions, rapes, mutilations, and murders. As for the suspects, several powerful, violent men, most of them these mercenary condottieri, could be circumstantially linked to all the crimes. More remarkably still, each of these suspects is mentioned specifically by name in The Prince, all of them having played leading roles in the events at the end of 1502 – and all of them were known personally by both Leonardo and Machiavelli.

This evidence brought my sleuthing-geniuses premise squarely back into the domain of documented history: I had discovered a true crime story – involving, as it turns out, a brilliant serial killer--interlaced with one of history's pivotal political events. Although this was a story Machiavelli, for very good reasons, decided to keep to himself, The Prince contains artifacts of it, once you know what you are looking for. As Machiavelli confesses to us at the beginning of his narrative, there is a "terrifying secret I deliberately buried between the lines of The Prince." The words are my creation, but they are based on admissions that Machiavelli made later in his life. The truth that can be found between the lines of The Prince – a revelation of man's capacity for evil far more ghastly than anything Machiavelli wrote explicitly in the text--is no mere fictional invention. With consequences that have resounded throughout the subsequent course of Western culture and history, the dreadful secret of The Prince is all too real.  

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:26 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci team up to expose a serial killer when Pope Alexander dispatches a Vatican courtesan to discern the truth about his beloved illegitimate son's murder. Their investigation reveals the secret history behind the controversial political work, "The Prince."… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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