The Madman of Venice
Random House 2011
When we first meet, Ned Fletcher, a poor but imaginative clerk serving under wealthy merchant Matthew Ashby, is struggling with problems he has no idea how to solve. Ned is an aspiring writer with a seemingly difficult case of writer's block, and his mind is often stuck in the clouds. To add to this, the girl he loves (his master's daughter!) has a disposition that is almost the complete opposite of his. Celia is headstrong, practical, and earthbound, and the differences in their attitudes seems to work as a barrier between them, keeping her ignorant of his affection. You quickly learn off another problem. Master Ashby has planned a trip to Venice to investigate the source of several incidents of pirate attacks on his cargo ships within the last several years. However, this investigation is only masking another. A good friend of his has requested his help to find another friends runaway daughter. Unjustly accused of witchcraft and adultery, the girl (Sarah Tedeschi) is in a very real danger of being arrested and burned at the stake. Sarah is also Jewish, which may prove unlucky for her in a city where Jews are highly discriminated and restricted.
In the quest to find Sarah and put a stop to the piracy of their cargo, Ned and Celia stumble through terrifying instances of corruption and unwittingly reveal some of Venice's darkest secrets. Will they be able to survive this nightmare, put an end to the piracy, and save Sarah? The Madman of Venice takes place in 16th century Europe. Ned is very much in love with plays, Shakespeare's in particular. The portrayal of life in this time period is very realistic, and shows both the best and the worst of one of the world's most famous cities. Superbly written :)
As Ned and Celia slowly learn more and more throughout their investigations, it's very easy to guess at the most likely ending (I know I did!). Don't bet on it! The story has a wicked twist to it in the end that you would never expect! Definitely a shocker, but it gives the previous events a whole new meaning and strengthens the story overall :)
Rating: 5 Hard to imagine a better book