St. Martin's, Mar 2002, 23.95, 288 pp.
In 1203, the two hundred plus Fourth Crusade ships anchor just off the walls of Constantinople causing panic and concern among the residents. The Imperial Treasurer Philoxenites not only worries about the horde of soldiers besieging his city, but the impact of a particular murder on that army. Someone killed Camilio Bastini, a silk merchant, in a locked room in the Venetian Quarter. Philoxenites assigns Theophilos “Feste the Jester” to uncover the truth about this homicide that could inflame the soldiers besetting the city into beginning the assault.
Feste, accompanied by his pregnant wife Aglaia, Rico the dwarf, and Plossus of the troupe of fools, quickly learns that the deceased is more than just a merchant. Soon the troupe of sleuths begins to uncover spies in every corner of the city representing numerous warring factions. The quartet concludes that even if they solve the case of the locked room, they might not survive the intrigue swirling in and out of Constantinople.
DEATH IN THE VENETIAN QUARTER is a humorous, often lewd tale filled with sharp puns and retorts, and a detailed description of the siege. Though historical mystery purists might cringe, Alan Gordon fills the story line with purposely placed anachronisms that enliven the narrative. The characters (real and fiction) are fun to observe; the locked door who-done-it is cleverly devised; and a mini note further explains the genuine events of the Fourth Crusade. The unconcerned about accuracy historical mystery reader will delight in this well written tale.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner