Second volume of a series that might be long. It is a short turning point novel because here the main hero Toby O'Dare starts with re-finding his family, his abandoned girl friend and his son.
Then he goes on a mission in Rome to save a Jewish doctor and his patient from the claws of the brother of this patient.
We discover the deep mistreatment of Jews in Italy under Girolamo Savonarola in Florence particularly but also in Rome at the beginning of the 16th century.
The story is simple. It reveals the anti-Jewish practices of the Catholics at the time. But that's not after all the main spring of this novel. It is a turning point because at the end he cleans up his past as a hit man but he is followed by a young man who has a very personal and direct question to ask him. And that is his dilemma because he has just confessed and promised never to be a hit man at all or even kill anyone under any circumstances and here is a the son of one victim.
The novel then is waiting for the next volume, and this one being kind of small, maybe an extension would have been a good thing. We'll have to wait. But the novel is also a turning point because the last part seems to be a development that was not planned at the beginning, or there is a mistake in the writing. When Toby writes, and we assume he is the writer because he tells us so and the novel is in the first person: "Instead I typed a brief and concise account of all that had happened to me since my last "report." "I wrote down not only the story of my adventure in Rome, but also the story of my meeting with Liona and Toby, and what had taken place." (p.158)
We wonder then who wrote what we have just read. This is a shift of narrator that is surprising because Anne Rice is known for very smooth and clean narrating lines.
Yet the ending had been prepared by the apparition of a representative of hell and his attempted temptation, so that shift in narrators should not have taken place, and in fact there is only one narrator. So are there two narrations? The one we have read and another typed and stored away that we will never see? There are in the novel several themes that are common with Anne Rice but they are underdeveloped in this book that is definitely too short. It deserved a lot more than just 160 pages.
It is very fine and dandy to help a Jew survive a difficult situation and to bury one who had been forgotten in a cellar, but the novel does not make us enter their poetry since they are writing poetry, nor their philosophies or other intellectual works since that's what they are, intellectuals. We save a Jew, but any Jew would have been OK.
In other words we have the bones of the skeleton in the forgotten cellar but there is no flesh on these bones and the clothing got rotten a long time ago. Then the final come back of his past is funny but it is a deus ex machina. It is surprising because we are dealing with a world that Anne Rice has studied in great detail, and used quite often, and yet we only get a cameo, a vignette, a post office stamp, a miniature instead of a grandiose and powerful picture.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU