The Mascherari: A novel of Venice by Laura Rahme

“It bore her face, the face of a ghost that had long vanished and yet its presence seemed so near, so near I had only to reach out, to reach out and grasp it”.

To write a novel is to dream a story and write it down on the page. That’s why the power of a really good story is one of true magic. Good stories engage the reader utterly in the writer’s dream so the dream becomes theirs, too.

Lyrically written, The Mascherari is a wonderful, rich and utterly imaginative dream of a novel. Brutal murder, revenge, pagan witchcraft, conspiracy, corruption, betrayal, sacrifice, all form part of this gothic, epistolary detective novel that takes place in Venice, in the year 1422. Use of letters not only lead the reader through the story but also give voice to strong, well drawn characters. Reading The Mascherari, a long, very long, memory echoed of my first introduction to Dracula, a work that opened wide the door to my lifelong fascination with the supernatural as a teenager. Like Dracula, The Mascherari also soaked into my psyche and left me with disturbing dreams.

The beautiful city of Venice is an immensely important character in this work, too. The Grand canal, the traffic of gondolas, dark alleyways, the glitter of gold and the sheen of silk, seediness alongside luxury, all the colour of Carnevale di Venezia, in Rahme’s capable hands, we are there, in Venice of so long ago.

The Mascherari is also an extremely original love story – a love story that haunts Antonio da Parma, the main character of this work and a man determined to find truth, no matter the cost. His love story also haunts the reader. It is a story of loss; a story of finding; a story of confronting and then claiming your true self.

Magic drives the core of this work; it throbs and sings and creates a sense of wonderment, until it bursts apart like an exploding star, bringing all the elements of the story together to reach an ending that intermixes both grief and joy.

The Mascherari offers a tale that feels like a labyrinth in its execution. But the author never lets the reader feel lost, rather intrigued, tantalised, and determined to follow Antonio in his quest of discovery. We hold onto the threads of the story until we reach its heart – and the dream has ended. Or has it? The ending suggests we will one day be invited to revisit Antonio da Parma for more adventures. I hope so.