The crumbling medieval world casts long shadows over emerging modernity in De Santis’s second mystery to be translated into English (The Paris Enigma, 2008).
Dalessius the calligrapher trained in a dying art, exquisitely inscribing the edicts of a tottering aristocracy while the printing press spread revolutionary ferment. After writing a verdict in disappearing ink, he is packed off to serve another subversive, the renowned philosopher Voltaire. Voltaire sends Dalessius to Toulouse to investigate the trial of a Huguenot accused of killing his son before he could convert to Catholicism. Illicitly searching their home, Dalessius finds books filled with the son’s suicidal marginalia. But the bloodthirsty crowd, whipped up by extremist White Penitents, continue to attribute miracles to the dead boy and demand his father’s execution. Unable to head off the gruesome outcome, Dalessius turns to a more intriguing mystery. The hearse that bore him to Toulouse also carried the body of an impossibly lovely young woman whom he now spies alive and well in a shrouded house. When Dalessius approaches her, the White Penitents slaughter a score of women before they slit her throat bloodlessly, revealing that she is a clockwork automaton. Dalessius returns to Paris to find the maker of such a marvel, and the iron power of the Church that would crush it.
While the prose is richly reminiscent of Umberto Eco, the headlong pace of this dark fantasy—combining elements of mystery, historical fiction, horror and the splinter genre clockpunk—will let readers swallow the entrancing story in a single gulp.