Desert Isle Keeper
Lord of the Night
Sandro Cavalli is a Lord of the Night, one of the aristocratic aids to the doge of Venice who investigate crime and skullduggery in the republic. His investigation of a series of horrific murders brings him repeatedly into contact with Laura Bandello, a beautiful woman who is also a talented painter and aspiring courtesan.
Both Laura and Sandro are beautifully drawn characters, struggling to fight the immediate and deep attraction between them. Sandro denies it because he is much older and painfully aware of the difference in their class status (and because Laura keeps coming up as a suspect in the murder investigation). Laura literally can’t afford it because she has chosen to be a courtesan from the limited careers available to her (wife, nun, whore). She plans to sell her virginity to the highest bidder, and hopes to retire from the world’s oldest profession shortly afterwards with enough money to finance her study of painting.
A hallmark of a great romance story is the ability to take the predictable and make it riveting in spite of the predictability. For example, as soon as the reader finds out that Laura plans to auction off her defloration, you know who the high bidder will be. Yet, when it comes, the actual scene plays out with memorable drama, and what follows both met my expectations and exceeded them.
Some readers may have a problem with the great age difference between Laura and Sandro. Sandro is a man in his early forties, with a son near Laura’s age of eighteen. Yet it worked for me, partially because Sandro himself is so disturbed by it, seeing his growing feelings as ludicrous. Also, Laura is almost unbelievably mature for her age, and came off more as older than a mere girl of eighteen.
Both characters are realistic and sympathetic, with believable foibles and weaknesses. Laura is stubborn in her attempts to remain independent, but never degenerates into too-stupid-to-live syndrome. Sandro’s priggishness is annoying but based in harsh reality, as shown in a scene where he exposes Laura to the brutal underside of the glamorous demi-monde by taking her to a hospital for women dying of syphilis.
The series of murders that create the mystery plotline held my attention without diverting it entirely from the romance. It wasn’t too difficult to figure out whodunnit, but that’s rarely the point in romantic suspense anyway, and there was a nice twist in the ending that I didn’t see coming. The best part of the mystery is the amount of time it allows the author to spend on showing different parts of the city and society in a fascinating time and place.
The supporting cast rounds out the story well, although a large cast and the vividness of the hero and heroine puts the other characters somewhat in the shade. The best portrayed secondary character, however, is Venice herself. The sights and sounds, smells and tastes of Renaissance Italy provided a vivid backdrop to the story. I am always interested in romances that move beyond the usual settings, and in this Susan Wiggs has succeeded brilliantly.
Lord of the Night quite deservedly won a RITA, and while it is now out of print, it is relatively easy to track down in used bookstores or on-line. If you are looking for a different setting, a romantic suspense story where the suspense and romance are well-balanced, and a truly memorable hero and heroine, I urge you to find and read this book.