Michael Ennis The Malice of Fortune

ISBN 13: 9780449012833

The Malice of Fortune

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9780449012833: The Malice of Fortune

Against a teeming canvas of Borgia politics, Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci come together to unmask an enigmatic serial killer, as we learn the secret history behind one of the most controversial works in the western canon, The Prince...
When Pope Alexander dispatches a Vatican courtesan, Damiata, to the remote fortress city of Imola to learn the truth behind the murder of Juan, his most beloved illegitimate son, she cannot fail, for the scheming Borgia pope holds her own young son hostage. Once there, Damiata becomes a pawn in the political intrigues of the pope’s surviving son, the charismatic Duke Valentino, whose own life is threatened by the condottieri, a powerful cabal of mercenary warlords. Damiata suspects that the killer she seeks is one of the brutal condottierri, and as the murders multiply, her quest grows more urgent. She enlists the help of an obscure Florentine diplomat, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Valentino’s eccentric military engineer, Leonardo da Vinci, who together must struggle to decipher the killer’s taunting riddles: Leonardo with his groundbreaking “science of observation” and Machiavelli with his new “science of men.” Traveling across an Italy torn apart by war, they will enter a labyrinth of ancient superstition and erotic obsession to discover at its center a new face of evil—and a truth that will shake the foundations of western civilization. 

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Review:

An Exclusive Essay by Author Michael Ennis

I began The Malice of Fortune with the rather modest ambition of writing a novel that featured Machiavelli as a detective; perhaps he could use the precepts of The Prince to solve a crime. As I dove into my research, I soon took particular interest in the closing months of the year 1502, when Machiavelli was a junior Florentine diplomat at the court of Cesare Borgia, the celebrated "Duke Valentino," who at the time was playing this deadly political chess game against a cabal of mercenary warlords known as the condottieri--a bloody political drama that Machiavelli would later place at the very center of The Prince.

Although Valentino's court was located in the remote fortress city of Imola during those final months of 1502, it attracted all sorts of interesting and nefarious characters, among them the Duke's innovative military engineer, Leonardo da Vinci. And after a little more digging, I discovered some intriguing connections between Leonardo and Machiavelli: they both abruptly left Duke Valentino's court shortly after the end of the year, under circumstances that historians have never fully understood, and then worked quite closely together in Florence. So clearly some mysterious and fraught relationship developed between them in Imola.

Still thinking in terms of a detective story, I envisioned something akin to a Holmes & Holmes partnership. Leonardo, who famously dissected corpses, could be a Renaissance forensic pathologist. As for Machiavelli, his political science is so deeply rooted in the study of human nature that he can also be considered a pioneer in the field of psychology. In fact, I was rather startled to learn that at the time he was working on The Prince, Machiavelli wrote a friend that when he entered his study, he imagined himself physically in the presence of prominent figures from history: "I converse with them and interrogate them about the motives for their actions. And they answer me--I get inside them completely." This sounded so uncannily like a modern criminal profiler that I just couldn't resist pushing the detective conceit a step further.

So here I started searching for a crime, but one based entirely on documented fact; if Leonardo's and Machiavelli's forensic abilities could be found in their actual studies, the crime – and the criminal – had to be equally authentic. I pored over five hundred year old cold cases and instead of just one crime, I discovered an entire "crime cluster" that began with the murder of the Pope's son in Rome, followed by a horrifying litany of related abductions, rapes, mutilations, and murders. As for the suspects, several powerful, violent men, most of them these mercenary condottieri, could be circumstantially linked to all the crimes. More remarkably still, each of these suspects is mentioned specifically by name in The Prince, all of them having played leading roles in the events at the end of 1502 – and all of them were known personally by both Leonardo and Machiavelli.

This evidence brought my sleuthing-geniuses premise squarely back into the domain of documented history: I had discovered a true crime story – involving, as it turns out, a brilliant serial killer--interlaced with one of history's pivotal political events. Although this was a story Machiavelli, for very good reasons, decided to keep to himself, The Prince contains artifacts of it, once you know what you are looking for. As Machiavelli confesses to us at the beginning of his narrative, there is a "terrifying secret I deliberately buried between the lines of The Prince." The words are my creation, but they are based on admissions that Machiavelli made later in his life. The truth that can be found between the lines of The Prince – a revelation of man's capacity for evil far more ghastly than anything Machiavelli wrote explicitly in the text--is no mere fictional invention. With consequences that have resounded throughout the subsequent course of Western culture and history, the dreadful secret of The Prince is all too real.  

About the Author:

MICHAEL ENNIS taught art history at the University of Texas, developed museum programs as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow, and worked as an independent curator and consultant. He is the author of two historical novels, The Duchess of Milan and Byzantium. He has written for Esquire and Architectural Digest, and is a regular contributor to Texas Monthly. He lives in Dallas with his television producer wife, Ellen, and their daughter, Arielle.

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