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City of Masks - S. D. Sykes

Oswald de Lacy and his mother are in Venice, waiting for a ship to take them to the Holy Land. However the Venetians and Hungarians are at a standoff so Oswald finds himself trapped for a while in the floating city. The black cloak of depression he had hoped to leave behind has followed him from England. The gambling he had hoped would stave off dark moods has become an addiction that could cost him everything. Then he finds a body, and he is drawn into the dark calles of Venice in the hopes of finding a killer, and saving himself in the process.


I’ll admit I didn’t like Oswald as much in this novel. He seemed more mean-spirited than normal. His mother was more sensitive, or at least as sensitive as she could be, and needed Oswald more. I found myself liking her more, even her cantankerous side grew on me.  His reaction to situations was one that seemed out of character. There were reasons for his actions, for his depression and whilst I knew that those would be revealed I did find myself lacking in sympathy for him. Instead of appearing older, as this story was set a few years after the last, he came across as younger. This sometimes manifested as him needing guidance that was sadly lacking or that was ignored when received. His stubbornness appeared more in this novel, traits he unknowingly would have obtained from his mother and sister.


The mystery itself was engaging and I loved the setting of Venice. The city and its own laws and rules, the fearsome Signori di Notte and the horror of the leper colony, together with the vivid descriptions of the cacophony of life on the calles and canals conjured up a full picture of medieval Venice. A lot of research would have gone into this novel and it shows. The atmosphere, the sights, sounds and fear of those in charge rise up from the pages. It was interesting to compare this with the setting of the other novels. There is a darkness, or perhaps a grimy film, that covers the stories set in England, one which enforces the bleakness of the landscape and the lives of those who work the land. In City of Masks that darkness is shown in a different light. There is the impression of colour, of festival and merriment but that too has an undercurrent of something deeper, when the hidden poverty of the city is shown.


The investigation brought a return of the old Oswald. It was also good to see Oswald’s mother more involved in this investigation. It is always interesting to read a novel where the crime can’t be deduced from DNA or fingerprint evidence, it’s one of the reasons I enjoy good historical crime fiction. City of Masks is an example of good historical crime fiction.


I’ll be interested to see what adventures Oswald gets up to next, particularly after the ending in this one.