Rumors of a new kind of magic draw young Fabrizio and his aging master, Mangus, to Renaissance Venice in this follow-up to Murder at Midnight (2009).
Fabrizio and Master Mangus are dispatched by the king of their town of Pergamontio, who has heard of a mysterious new way of making money, explained in a book by Franciscan friar Luca Pacioli. Superstitious Fabrizio discovers a world of seemingly magical wonders as he shepherds the increasingly sick and feeble Mangus through the cosmopolitan city of canals. They are pursued, for no evident reason aside from drumming up tension, by the king’s tax collector and an equally sinister confederate. Fabrizio quickly falls in with Bianca, a fellow orphan who serves as a local guide and who has an Egyptian gondolier (the one character with a speaking part who doesn’t present as White) on call for transportation. She even turns out to be trained in the new magic, otherwise known as double-entry bookkeeping. Some chases, captures, escapes, and nighttime boat rides provide at least a framework of a plot, but along with providing no real rationale for the bad guys’ pursuit, they offer Mangus no active role beyond prisoner in need of rescue and barely sketch in the distinctive setting. The author seems chiefly interested in introducing readers to Pacioli, a real historical figure, before finishing off with a happy ending…for the good guys, at least.
Despite the manufactured suspense, this may draw middle-grade students of accounting history to the series.(author’s note) (Adventure. 10-12)