By SD Sykes
Published by Hodder (Paperback - 25 January 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher.
1358. Oswald de Lacy, Lord Somershill, is in Venice, awaiting a pilgrim galley to the Holy Land. While the city is under siege from the Hungarians, Oswald lodges with an English merchant, and soon comes under the dangerous spell of the decadent and dazzling island state that sits on the hinge of Europe, where East meets West.
Oswald is trying to flee the chilling shadow of something in his past, but when he finds a dead man on the night of the carnival, he is dragged into a murder investigation that takes him deep into the intrigues of this mysterious, paranoid city.
Coming up against the feared Signori di Notte, the secret police, Oswald learns that he is not the only one with something to hide. Everybody is watching somebody else, and nobody in Venice is what he or she seems. The masks are not just for the carnival.
Reading City of Masks was like coming back to old friends, as I loved the first two books in the Oswald de Lacy series. This book is set seven years on from The Butcher Bird (Book 2). This time, SD Sykes transports readers to 14th Century Venice, where Oswald and his mother wait for a galley that will take them on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
City of Masks is a medieval murder mystery with an intricate plot, well-drawn characters and a realistic period setting. When the grandson of an old family friend is found murdered, Oswald is set the task of discovering the killer, due to his previous success as an amateur detective. At first he refuses but, thanks to gambling debts, he reluctantly takes on the case, in need of the financial reward. As I expected, having read the previous books, there are lots of red herrings, twists and turns and surprises right until the end.
However, City of Masks seems very different from its predecessors, and I don't mean that in a bad way at all. The first two books are set just after the Black Plague in Kent, and had a claustrophobic feel to them with a smaller cast of characters - think of them as Oswald's 'coming of age' years, as he progresses from novice monk to Lord Somershill. I would suggest that you read all three of the books in order, as City of Masks does contain a few subtle references to Oswald's past.
City of Masks has a darker, almost melancholy, feel to it, set in a busy city on the cusp of war. Oswald has matured since the first two books, influenced by recent events that are revealed as the book progresses, and is struggling to fight his inner demons and overpowering feelings of depression. His domineering mother provides some light relief and entertainment amid all the darkness.
Venice is one of my favourite cities and I certainly felt that SD Sykes brought it to life with her in-depth research and colourful prose, contrasting the wealth and splendour with the poverty and squalor. I look forward to seeing where Oswald finds himself next, whether it's back home in Kent or on yet another foreign adventure.