The setting of this mystery is certainly engaging; however, the plot fails to live up to its potential as the protagonist, Dante Alighieri (future author of The Divine Comedy) is faced with the murder of an artisan, a mosaicist working on an enigmatic design at the site of a future college.
In 1300, Florence, Italy is seething with political unrest, warring factions (the Whites and the Blacks) fighting for ascendancy. In addition, the city still suffers from an ignominious loss to the Infidels at St. John of Acre in 1291, a defeat that still rankles the citizens.
As prior of the city of Florence, Dante’s task is to contain the excesses of the population, the church weighing in with a heavy hand in light of the licentious activities of the times. Among his duties is the containment of crimes such as the murder.
At the scene of the crime, Dante discovers the tortured body of a master artist, the man’s work interrupted by the fatal attack. It is Dante’s responsibility to determine the nature of the crime and the culprit behind it, meanwhile keeping the city from becoming further inflamed.
Dante’s inquiries lead him to a diverse group of scholar-philosophers, the Third Heaven, whose members include the exotic dancer Antilia. Their meetings held in a local tavern, the group holds forth on philosophy, politics and more arcane matters, such as the meaning of eternal life and secrets long protected by the Knights Templar.
Dante suspects that these men, as well as the beautiful exotic dancer, are protecting whomever is behind the crime, but he also suspects they have uncovered the crux of the matter the artist was working on, nothing less than the secret of eternity.
In an intricate game of cat and mouse, Dante scours a labyrinth of obfuscation and false leads. He has the resources of the inquisition at hand, a great temptation, but manages to avoid resorting to torture in his quest for the knowledge so craftily withheld.
Dante’s investigation is further complicated by the chronic unrest of the citizens and warring factions at odds with each other. The prior is warned to plan ahead, perhaps leave the city before the Whites are overthrown. Unfortunately, Dante’s eye is on the prize, and he fails to heed the advice at his own peril.
Florence is rife with intrigue, cloaked figures lurking in dark passages, streets lined with beggars and mercenaries, and the insatiable curiosity of learned men. Too easily distracted by theological debate with the potential suspects, Dante is a willing victim of his desire to know the unknowable as the bodies of the Third Heaven fall around him. Lacking in human passion or compassion, Dante fails to inflame the imagination, caught in the convoluted web of his own mind.