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Painted Veil: A Baroque Mystery    by Beverle Graves Myers Amazon.com order for
Painted Veil
by Beverle Graves Myers
Order:  USA  Can
Poisoned Pen, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover
* * *   Reviewed by Nina de Angeli

Venice in 1734 is wild for opera, and especially for flamboyant star singers like the castrato (male soprano) Florio. The baroque splendor of Venetian opera comes to life as the company at Teatro San Marco frantically prepares a spectacular production designed for a Doge's family wedding. Bedeviled by city auditors counting every coin, and the histrionics of his star Florio, the theater manger is beset with one crisis after another.

When the master scene painter Luca disappears, leaving unfinished sets, the manager turns in desperation to Tito Amato, a rising young castrato singer who solved the mystery in Interrupted Aria (first in this series). He must find the missing painter so the show can go on. Tito's marvelous voice, granted to him 'by the knife,' has been neglected and he is jealous of Florio's fame. Ambitious for his own career, he agrees as a favor to help the manager. When Luca's body is fished out of the Grand Canal by gondoliers at the height of a spectacular water festival, Tito's investigation takes a dangerous turn.

Seeking clues to Luca's mysterious life, Tito ventures into Venice's Jewish ghetto to interview a beautiful costume maker who may have been the dead man's mistress, and whose face is imprinted on a painted silk veil owned by Luca. On the way he finds an ally in a young English painter, Gus Rumbolt. The pair meet a colorful cast: theater people, decayed aristocrats, Jewish merchants, and a sinister charlatan called Dr. Palantinus.

The world of the castrati singers, alien as it is to modern readers, is treated with matter-of-fact acceptance and sensitivity, and Tito Amato makes an engaging protagonist. But the city of Venice is the most important character in Painted Veil. Myers paints a detailed and colorful portrait of the Queen of the Adriatic clinging to the glories of the past and living on tourism. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

2nd Review by Mary Ann Smyth:

Beverle Graves Myers brings Tito Amato, castrato soprano of the opera, back to her readers in this second baroque mystery. Tito solved a murder in the previous episode, Interrupted Aria. The manager of the opera of Venice (in the year 1734) comes to Tito, now twenty-two, to ask him to investigate the death of a talented scene painter. Tito's quest gets convoluted, with many suspects.

The politics of the times revolve around the patricians of the city, where Jews are forced to live in the first ever ghetto or geti, a large compound where iron was formerly forged. They had been forced to leave Spanish persecution two hundred years before. The intervening years, and new lives in Venice, have not noticeably improved their lot. Tito is accompanied by a new friend, Englishman Augustus (Gussie) Rumbolt, who is making his grand tour of Europe. The two men forge a relationship as they risk life and limb to discover the truth.

The historical background of the opera in the eighteenth century comes alive as Tito unleashes his glorious soprano. A foppish rival shocks Tito by showing he does indeed have a heart. Myers gives us a fascinating look at Venice at the height of its glory. In this fast-paced, action packed novel, the plot simmers with intrigue, lies and deception, with touches of romance thrown in to liven the mix.

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