The body of one of Venice's brightest young actors is found, crucified, his eyes gouged out and a line of verse carved into his chest. His is just the first death as a shadowy group stalk the rulers of Venice and their supporters. The murderer, known only as The Chimera, is the leader of this dangerous fanatical group - the Stiges or Firebirds - determined to kill one of the depraved, the gluttonous, the traitors to their cause - one for each of the nine Circles of Dante's Inferno.
The Doge of Venice turns to Pietro Viravolta, a dashing young adventurer, best friend of Casanova, seducer of women in his own right, and lover of the beautiful wife of the powerful Senator Ottavio. Pietro - The Black Orchard - awaits execution in jail for adultery, but he is called from that jail to investigate the deaths by the Doge, on the proviso that he does not escape the city and does not contact Anna - the love of his life, the Senator's wife.
The Black Orchid's investigations lead him to Luciana, the beautiful courtesan; Spadetti, the master glass-maker of Murano and his son, the maker of the glorious crystal gown; Caffelli, the tormented priest of San Giorgo Maggiore and further and further into the echelons of power and to Senator Ottavio - the husband of the woman he loves. As he goes murder follows and the Firebirds draw closer and closer to The Doge, completing their nine circles in the brutal fashion.
THE DANTE TRAP is a very intricate historical work, written originally by a Frenchman, and translated to English, the text is dense and peppered liberally with non-translated quotations and references. It's a very elaborate and quite decorative style of writing that immerses the reader in the other world of 1756 Venice - the descriptions of the location, the costumes, the styling of the dialogue has a very authentic feel to it. Unfortunately, I'm not much of a reader of historical mystery fiction of this style, and I suspect that personal preference means that I missed a lot of the intricacies of this book as I found the use of those non-translated references and the complications of the names and the relationships quite confusing on occasion.
THE DANTE TRAP certainly read like a book that is extremely competently done, with an elaborate and quite intricate and multi-layered plot; with mystery and political intrigue; a lively and slightly irreverent central character in Pietro; with a more than healthy dose of romance and difficult love; with some pointed references to the life of women - courtesans or nuns if they don't want to make the marriage that is deemed by others to be acceptable; and with a glorious picture drawn of Carnival in Venice, I suspect that THE DANTE TRAP will greatly appeal to fans of this style of historical mystery fiction.