The Dante Conspiracy, by James Becker

Eight stars

A great fan of James Becker’s work, I was pleased to come across this novella that mixes a police procedural with some Italian literary history. Professor Antonio Bertorelli is found tortured and murdered after an apparent struggle, though it is not entirely clear who might want to harm him. When Sergeant Cesare Lombardi and Inspector Silvio Perini arrive at the scene, they are equally confused, but soon learn that Bertorelli was quite knowledgeable when it came to Dante’s Divine Comedy, having penned an interesting academic article on the topic only weeks before. In the article, Bertorelli posits that Dante may have written an alternate part to his famous work, or at least amended it with some clues to another important document that he wished could come to light. As Lombardi and Perini seek to find the killer and get to the root of this homicide, there are a few hooded men who have been trying to crack Dante’s code themselves, ready to stop at nothing to horde the results for themselves. Lombardi and Perini find themselves surrounded by Italian history as the sift through much of the time in which Dante lived, hoping to better understand what the killers sought. What they find may shock not only historians keen on the period, but the larger academic community. Becker does a wonderful job keeping the reader hooked with this novella, mixing history and mystery into a brief piece of writing. Recommended for those who enjoy Becker’s past work as well as the curious reader who likes historical mysteries.

I tend to find that James Becker not only packs a punch with his writing abilities, but fills each story with so much history that the reader cannot help but go away knowing so much more. This piece is no exception, as Becker pushes a thirteenth/fourteenth century historical mystery into the early narrative and does not let it go until the final chapter. With so little time to explore character development, Lombardi and Perini receiving much of their connection to the reader through the sleuthing that they do. They ask the poignant questions and posit interesting solutions to issues throughout, keeping the reader feeling as though they are part of the investigation. The story moves forward at a clipped pace, mixing investigation of the murder with a great deal of history related to Dante. The story offers up both the man’s place in the larger Italian community as well as information about the Divine Comedy in general. Becker does not pull any punches, flooding the piece with a great deal of fact in order to push the narrative in a certain direction. I was happy to go along for the ride, admittedly hoping that much of what I was being told could be grounded in fact and not fallacy in order to spice up the story. Becker always seeks to reveal new aspects of history to keep his reader wondering and searching for more information. This novella was surely no exception.

Kudos, Mr. Becker, for another wonderful historical mystery. I am eager to get my hands on more of your work, as you seem to be churning out some interesting standalone pieces at the moment.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: