Nineteenth-century Europe—from Turin to Palermo, to Prague, to Paris—abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious—The Jesuits who plot against the Freemasons, Freemasons, Carbonari and Mazzinians who strangle priests with their own intestines, a bow-legged arthritic Garibaldi, the Dreyfus affair, the makings of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious forgery, that was to inspire Hitler in his creation of concentration camps, machinations by secret services in Piedmont, France, Russia, and Prussia, massacres during the Commune in Paris, where people eat mice, stabbings, befouled haunts for criminals who, among the fumes of absinthe, plan bombings and rebellions in the streets, false beards, false lawyers, false wills, an abbé who dies twice, a hysterical female Satanist, celebrants of black masses—gore enough to satisfy the worst in readers.
Except for one detail. Apart from the protagonist, all of the characters in this novel existed and did what they did. The protagonist also does things that actually happened, except that many of these things were likely done by different people. But who knows—when you are dealing with secret services, double agents, traitorous officials and sinning priests, anything can happen. And does.
This one was tough going at the start. The first twenty pages were so confusing I almost gave up – I had no idea who the narrator was, the context, or the historical events referenced! But, if you can make it past these initial pages (which I recommend), the novel is much easier to read, even if the content is difficult to digest.
The conspiracies, double dealings, back stabbings, and murders that appear to be the norm of the times is both breathtakingly shocking, as well as fascinating. The most intriguing aspect of the novel is how one man’s hateful actions lead to turmoil in the world of the mid to late eighteen hundreds, but also continues to have lasting repercussions in the twenty first century.
I recommend this one, but be warned … it is not an easy (mental/emotional) read.