Here's a story that is concocted in a way that is as clever as it is complex, but also, to my mind, needlessly convoluted and confusing. So much so that, like one of Amazon's favorite reviewers, Jill Meyer, I was often tempted to call it quits. Still not sure why I plowed on. (Probably has more to do with my great admiration for the recently published "Macbeth" novel this author co-wrote with A. J. Hartley than with ever actually getting involved with this story--at least not until the very end. ) So here's what I think you might want to know before considering reading this one:
The story opens with a constantly bickering mother and daughter arriving in Venice from Rome. It's the midst of Carnival, the city's annual 40-day costume party that ends with Lent. But that's not why they're there. They've come because the daughter, Teresa, the chief pathologist for the Rome police, has received an odd piece of mail from her Aunt Sofia saying that something's come up and she may have to disappear for awhile and would they please come and keep an eye on her apartment and here's the key. Whew! So here they are, Sofia has indeed gone missing and no one who knows her knows why or has seen or heard from her in at least a week. Chiarra "knows" her sister is dead. Teresa "knows" her aunt's alive. Chiarra goes home; Teresa stays on, determined to find her. Alas, not a clue turns up. Until! Under the door there appears a manila envelope with what appears to be a manuscript in it. Teresa opens it. End of chapter one.
Chapter two tells a 27-page story about an Englishman, newly arrived in Venice, and how he happened upon a strange white dog that appeared to be an exact replica of the dog in a Carpaccio painting of St. Augustine that he'd just seen at a nearby gallery. What does that have to do with finding Sofia? Nothing so far as I could see and nothing Teresa can see either, but she's convinced there's a clue in there somewhere. But when she goes back for another look, the manuscript has gone blank. Aha and alas! Disappearing ink.
So, back to where we left off before getting distracted by that Englishman. Except that I no longer remember just where that was. So must backtrack before moving forward. In the next chapter another manila envelope appears under the door. With still another cryptic tale inside. Thus the pattern is set: Every chapter of Teresa trying to find Sofia will end with the arrival of a new manila envelope, followed by a chapter that tells a story that may or may not contain a clue. Somewhere in the midst of all this, comes a story that will introduce us to its author, Arnaud, the Count of Germain, whom many of you (but alas, not I) will recognize as a legendary French "immortal" who's been popping up here and there for centuries. Seems he wants to help. Meanwhile Teresa notices that the most popular costume at Carnival this year seems to be that of the Plague Doctor.
Eventually questions will be answered. Eventually the missing aunt mystery will be solved. And, if you can manage to wade through all this, eventually you'll arrive at page 425, and be treated to a most interesting 35 pages that will clear up most, if not all, of the loose ends in this very weird story. But worth all it took to get there? Up to you. Still not sure about me.