Renaissance history

The Black Prince Of Florence by Catherine Fletcher Vintage 311pp Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops 450 baht

I am so conditioned when I pick up a new book about Italy that I expect it to be a historical novel about Ancient Rome. That period seems to fascinate historians and historical novelists. This reviewer finds it no more than somewhat interesting.

Hence, The Black Prince Of Florence by British historian Catherine Fletcher was a pleasant surprise. Her speciality is the Renaissance. The time of the legions had long passed. This was the time of the arts. When Da Vinci and Titian, Michelangelo and Cellini rubbed shoulders.

Not to mention Machiavelli instructing those in power how to behave. England had its Tudors, Italy its Medicis. All had slaves, brought in by wars and traders from the East.

Slaves served every purpose in the fields and in shops, in the homes and in beds. Numerous illegitimate infants were foaled. Sired by the nobility, what were they to do with them? A not uncommon solution was to set the mothers free, then raise the children as their own.

Several rose to high rank. Made good marriages. But there was also jealousy. The author singles out the spawn of a duke and a Moorish maid. Alessandro's skin colour was light brown (not black). Daddy was part of the Medici clan. Medici Pope Leo X took the lad under his wing.

Still a youth, Alessandro was elevated to prince of Florence. Rival families wouldn't stand for it. He found security behind 300 bodyguards. Not short of mistresses, a marriage was needed.

Margaret of Parma (later Margaret of Austria) fitted the bill, if rather young at 13 (illegitimate). A match with the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor would have been a political match, had she not miscarried.

At 25, Alessandro's time was up. Assassins got to him. Which they justified by accusing him of having been a tyrant.

The book has two sections of glossy period pictures, a bibliography and an index. Fletcher has an easy style. If you are curious about the Medicis and their effect on European history, you can't do better.


Private Delhi by James Patterson and Ashwin Sanghi Century 386pp Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops 550 baht

Readers' dilemma

People do the right thing for the wrong reasons, the wrong thing for the right reasons, the right thing for the right reasons, the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. Our acts fall into these categories. As do the characters in books. To this reviewer, doing the wrong thing for the right reason is the most common.

This applies to vigilantes for one. It's difficult to fault their motives. They and members of society have been ill-treated, but the criminal justice system gives their oppressors the benefit of the doubt. Not out of legal conviction, the victims think, but bribes to the authorities.

Needless to say, law enforcement won't stand for it. Vengeance is their responsibility and nobody else's. Vigilantes are criminals and must be treated as such. This conflict is the theme of Private Delhi by James Patterson and Ashwin Sanghi.

Jack Morgan's independent private detective agency is worldwide.

Santosh runs the one in the capital of India. Nisha and Neely are in his investigation team. Morgan makes the rounds, ensuring that his people are on their toes. It's unclear why governments hire them as they have plenty of police, but they pride themselves on being discreet and avoid the media.

Bodies are found in a basement, victims tortured then murdered. Their identities are shocking: respected, even ranking pillars of the community. Why kill them? Tapped to find out, Nisha gathers evidence with her magic fingers on the computer. All were in on human trafficking. Organ harvesting.

The authors have moved in on Robin Cook, Michael Palmer and Tess Gerritsen territory, who have been writing about this crime for decades. The culprit or hero as the case may be calls himself "The Deliverer". When apprehended, which is he?

The finish is ambiguous. It is left to the reader to decide. As with Hannibal the Cannibal in Thomas Harris' The Silence Of The Lambs, the answer is a toughie.

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