Karen Brooks's Reviews > The Book of Unholy Mischief

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark
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's review
Feb 16, 11

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Read in January, 2011 — I own a copy

This was a delightful book, set in Venice in the late 1400s, at the height of its powers, and primarily in the kitchen of the Doge's palazzo. It follows the fortunes of a young orphan named Luciano and what becomes his apprenticeship to the Doge's head cook, Chef Ferrero. Of course, the Chef is more than he seems - intelligent, articulate, wise and the holder of a great mystery which Luciano becomes desperate to uncover - but he's not the only one. Others want to find what it is the Chef knows and hides...and a young boy will not stand in their way....
Well researched, the dynamics of the Renaissance kitchen is fascinating, as is finding out just what foods were available for consumption and from where in the 1400s. As a centre of trade in the Mediterranean, Venice was the epicentre of many things, including culinary exploration, and Newmark takes wonderful liberties with this.
I really enjoyed this book and found its evocation of the past to be delightful - for the first two thirds... at a later point in the book, it's as if the narrative undergoes a shift and Dan Brown or one of the writers who jumped on the Grail/Jesus/Magdalene religious mysteries bandwagon took over and the novel becomes imbued with overtones that, personally, I didn't feel it needed. It was a bit too pat and predictable after starting so nicely.
It does, however, end on a lovely note - so while some of the ingredients appear to let the recipe down, the final result (forgive the dreadful metaphors) is very palatable.
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