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I began The Malice of Fortune with the rather modest ambition of writing a novel that featured Machiavelli as a detective; perhaps he could use the precepts of The Prince to solve a crime. As I dove into my research, I soon took particular interest in the closing months of the year 1502, when Machiavelli was a junior Florentine diplomat at the court of Cesare Borgia, the celebrated "Duke Valentino," who at the time was playing this deadly political chess game against a cabal of mercenary warlords known as the condottieri--a bloody political drama that Machiavelli would later place at the very center of The Prince.
Although Valentino's court was located in the remote fortress city of Imola during those final months of 1502, it attracted all sorts of interesting and nefarious characters, among them the Duke's innovative military engineer, Leonardo da Vinci. And after a little more digging, I discovered some intriguing connections between Leonardo and Machiavelli: they both abruptly left Duke Valentino's court shortly after the end of the year, under circumstances that historians have never fully understood, and then worked quite closely together in Florence. So clearly some mysterious and fraught relationship developed between them in Imola.
Still thinking in terms of a detective story, I envisioned something akin to a Holmes & Holmes partnership. Leonardo, who famously dissected corpses, could be a Renaissance forensic pathologist. As for Machiavelli, his political science is so deeply rooted in the study of human nature that he can also be considered a pioneer in the field of psychology. In fact, I was rather startled to learn that at the time he was working on The Prince, Machiavelli wrote a friend that when he entered his study, he imagined himself physically in the presence of prominent figures from history: "I converse with them and interrogate them about the motives for their actions. And they answer me--I get inside them completely." This sounded so uncannily like a modern criminal profiler that I just couldn't resist pushing the detective conceit a step further.
So here I started searching for a crime, but one based entirely on documented fact; if Leonardo's and Machiavelli's forensic abilities could be found in their actual studies, the crime – and the criminal – had to be equally authentic. I pored over five hundred year old cold cases and instead of just one crime, I discovered an entire "crime cluster" that began with the murder of the Pope's son in Rome, followed by a horrifying litany of related abductions, rapes, mutilations, and murders. As for the suspects, several powerful, violent men, most of them these mercenary condottieri, could be circumstantially linked to all the crimes. More remarkably still, each of these suspects is mentioned specifically by name in The Prince, all of them having played leading roles in the events at the end of 1502 – and all of them were known personally by both Leonardo and Machiavelli.
This evidence brought my sleuthing-geniuses premise squarely back into the domain of documented history: I had discovered a true crime story – involving, as it turns out, a brilliant serial killer--interlaced with one of history's pivotal political events. Although this was a story Machiavelli, for very good reasons, decided to keep to himself, The Prince contains artifacts of it, once you know what you are looking for. As Machiavelli confesses to us at the beginning of his narrative, there is a "terrifying secret I deliberately buried between the lines of The Prince." The words are my creation, but they are based on admissions that Machiavelli made later in his life. The truth that can be found between the lines of The Prince – a revelation of man's capacity for evil far more ghastly than anything Machiavelli wrote explicitly in the text--is no mere fictional invention. With consequences that have resounded throughout the subsequent course of Western culture and history, the dreadful secret of The Prince is all too real.
I was intrigued with all the historical figures woven into the story. But it was really slow in many places. All the Italian names became hard for me to keep straight. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Tina Foster
Did not like the book. I realize this time period was gory and perverted but guess I just don't like reading about it...Published 1 month ago by Judith
Fascinating book, especially interesting if you're familiar with some of the locations and with a bit of Italian history.Published 3 months ago by Marilyn K. Moore
If you’ve read The Prince, you probably think you know the work of Niccolo Machiavelli. Chances are, you think of him — as I always did — as the Renaissance figure who lionized a... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Mal Warwick
So we have an ex prostitute who can quote classical literature in Latin and Italian, a political philosopher and an inventor who were each known to be anti social and have a... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Surveyor
I found the plot both difficult to understand and difficult to become invested in. I never felt a connection with the main character, Machiavelli, or saw any real character... Read morePublished 9 months ago by machinerman
This historical novel is difficult to assess as to recommendations and stars.
Michael Ennis is an extraordinary writer. Read more
Great romp of an historical novel about an era not frequently explored. I'm having fun sharing with friends who are enjoying it as well.Published 12 months ago by myriam palmer