City Of Silver: A Mystery, by Annamaria Alfieri
Very frequently I find myself somewhat disturbed by the sort of books I read, and this book has that personal effect on me. Why is that? I am fond of historical mysteries and this book certainly is a very excellently written historical mystery that features compelling characters seeking to solve an important mystery in a place whose horrors are often far too frequently forgotten or ignored. This is a book that features the seduction and exploitation of the young by men, planned as well as executed incest, and features at its core an alliance between a priest who is a repentant rapist and the head of an abbey who is thought to be naively decent but is herself the survivor of a rape that pushed her into the convent, who finds herself persecuted by the local representative of the Spanish Inquisition. Some people may find this material to be unpleasant, but for me I find it deeply disturbing the way that the longing to solve the mysteries of life that present themselves to us often spring from an experience of trauma that demands explanation for our own sanity if not survival, and that the desire to solve mysteries and put things to right often makes people powerful and implacable enemies who have an active interest in persisting in corruption and injustice and wickedness. Without pandering to contemporary political trends, this book presents a corrupt world and how it can be set to right only with difficulty and immense risk.
As far as the story goes, this book has a compelling one. When we begin a local miner is murdered after having sought to protect something for his boss. When his widow asks for justice she is initially blown off because the murder victim was only an Indio anyway. Then a young woman at a Potosi abbey is murdered, and it is speculated that she committed suicide. When the abbess/detective Maria Santa Hilda buries on consecrated ground, the local Inquisitor thinks that he can finally rid himself of the intelligent and perhaps somewhat freethinking abbess. The concern that serial murderers are on the loose as the Abbess realizes what sort of wickedness has been going on in her abbey while an irritable and upright visitor is sent from the King of Spain to investigate concerns of currency fraud leads to a dramatic race against time as the Abbess and her nuns try to save themselves and stop a plot to corrupt the silver upon which Potosi depends. The book shows a great grasp of local history in 17th century Potosi and the complex politics of Spanish colonial rule with compelling characters and a dark mystery worthy of a heroic if cloistered detective.
In reading this book I was reminded of the way that mysteries often reveal the dark and sordid underbelly that exists in all places while also reminding us that through logic and passion and divine providence that what is wrong can be made right again, and that the world can be made a better place when one investigates and then acts upon the truth and makes sense of what may appear to be senseless and random tragedies in a world full of darkness and evil. I have not been familiar with the author’s work before, but I will definitely seek out other works of hers and look forward to seeing more mysteries solved by this and other religious detectives that the author comes up with. If you are a fan of both South America as well as compelling fiction on the order of Brother Cadfael or other similar series, this book will likely be something whose skill you will be able to appreciate even as its contents may remind you of the darkness and evil that exist within our own world in this present evil age.