The Medici Murders is out in the UK and the US in hardback next week (October 4), the first in what I hope will become a long-running series set in Venice and featuring a very unusual protagonist. It’s time I issued what I suspect, in the language of the day, ought to be called a trigger warning. If it’s one of those lightning-paced, breathless, heart-pounding read-in-a-flash thrillers you’re after, you should probably look elsewhere.
With this book, and those that follow with the same characters, I’m out to do something different.
You can get a glimpse of what I’m going to talk about when I tell you Arnold Clover, the protagonist, is a newly retired civil servant from the National Archives at Kew outside London. A quiet, intelligent, inquisitive man with a name I picked because I wanted something a million miles from a standard action hero.
Because Arnold isn’t one, nor is this a work you should expect to race through in a couple of hours, punctuated by constant incident and carefully orchestrated cliffhangers.
Nothing wrong with that kind of story — I’ve written and enjoyed them myself. But books are a bit like restaurants. Some serve fast food… and some intrigue you with slow. There are times when you want a quick thrill. And, others, when I, at least, still want that old-fashioned experience of curling up with a richly embroidered story and letting its characters, the world they inhabit, and the strange mysteries they face, consume me over a leisurely read.
So often these days I see mini-reviews that say something along the lines of, ‘This book is so great I finished it on the plane.’ As if the benchmark of quality is how quickly you can get from beginning to end. That’s not my neck of the woods. Books like mine involve lots of research and background — a year of it in the case of this one, three when it came to The Garden of Angels. That’s because I want them to reflect the richness of the small world in which they take place and to tempt the reader to take the time to become engrossed by what they find there.
Graham Greene, an author I’ve loved since I was a teenager, wrote literary novels but also some lighter stories he termed ‘entertainments’, many of which had serious issues at their heart but took the form of mainstream narratives. Arnold Clover is my shot at an ‘entertainment’, the first in a set of tales I’d categorise not as ‘crime’ and certainly not as ‘thrillers’, more as ‘history mysteries’ — stories set in modern times but shaped by the past and its resonance with the present.
I don’t intend them to be ‘heavy’ reads though if they prompt people to investigate further some of the real-life history behind them all the better. I hope Arnold and the characters assembled around him — a flamboyant Venetian archivist, Luca Volpetti, and a rather fierce Carabineri capitano, Valentina Fabbri, among them — are intriguing and amusing figures in their own right.
But this is Venice. There can be no car chases. This is Italy. Nothing happens quickly. Nor is there much in the way of death or violence. Starting this book in the midst of the pandemic, it struck me there’s quite enough that’s grim in the world right now. I’d no appetite to add to it. So, an ‘entertainment’ it is.
Over the next couple of days, let me introduce you to the world of Arnold Clover and a Venice rich with history and culture, where mysteries may lurk around every corner.
Next up tomorrow… The real Medici Murders that spark this story.