A welcome antidote to the usual melodramatic Borgia fare.



A poisoner in the court of the Borgia pope strives to protect His Holiness by rooting out an assassin, in the third of a series.

Francesca Giordano, daughter of a Jewish courtier to the Borgia pope Alexander VI, inherits her position when her father is murdered by assailants still unknown. This is only one of the mysteries tormenting Francesca; increasingly she has begun to suspect that her mother, Adriana, did not die while giving birth to her, as she was told. A professional poisoner, Francesca serves Alexander as a contract killer and also as a taster, examining and sampling every dish he is served. With cold calculation, or with the blood-thirsty frenzy that sometimes overtakes her, she has killed several men. She’s the confidante and intermittent mistress of Cesare, the Pope’s son, who has lately been impressed into the priesthood at the rank of Cardinal. Fearing plague in Rome and those who would thwart the Borgias’ plans for world domination, the Pope’s court, including his 13-year old daughter Lucrezia, decamp to the fortified town of Viterbo. Their entourage includes an unruly delegation of Spaniards from the court of Isabella and Ferdinand, tolerated because an alliance with Spain is crucial to Borgia ambitions. A series of sudden deaths among the household staff, which Francesca, who also serves the Borgias as a coroner, is at a loss to explain, leads her to suspect that an assassin may well have infiltrated the court. But who is the killer’s target? The Pope, Cesare, Lucrezia, Francesca herself, or Herrera, the dissolute Spanish envoy who hates Francesca, not least because she’s his rival for Cesare’s affection? Needing someone to trust, Francesca befriends an abbess who knows the truth about Adriana’s death. The persecution of the Cathar heretics two centuries before also has repercussions for Francesca and her charges. That Poole manages to hew a path through this thicket of complications is a testament to her considerable expository skill.

A welcome antidote to the usual melodramatic Borgia fare.

Pub Date: May 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-60985-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.


In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...


Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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