15 January 2015

Excerpt Thursday: THE MASCHERARI: A NOVEL OF VENICE by Laura Rahme

This week, we're welcoming author Laura Rahme again, whose latest title is THE MASCHERARI: A NOVEL OF VENICE. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of The MascherariBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb. 

VENEZIA, 1422.
   Doge Tommaso Mocenigo lies on his death bed. 
An evil has come to Venice. An evil that will set the course for the future of La Serenissima.
   On the eve of Carnivale, five wealthy Venetian merchants set upon a mask maker in the ancient district of Santa Croce. They are led by Giacomo Contarini, a ruthless patrician.
   The following day, the Venice Republic's security council, the most feared Council of Ten, summons Florentine inquisitor, Antonio da Parma, to hold an inquest on a most baffling case.  During a sumptuous banquet, Giacomo Contarini and his partners have met a chilling death.
   In the throes of this macabre investigation Antonio da Parma is lured by his dreams and visions and by the mysterious silver pendant that he discovers on one of the dead merchants.
   Noble Catarina Contarini has a sad tale to tell. Her husband's death weighs upon her and so too, do the scandalous accusations that have been raised against him. In her grief, she confides in Antonio and reveals her shocking secrets.
But Catarina's darkest secret concerns a witch; a Napoletana named Magdalena.
   Antonio is drawn ever closer to the magnetic Magdalena. He unveils the truth behind the merchants' murders and comes face to face with a machination of monstrous evil.
   Through this fascinating Magdalena, an enchanter of admirals and merchants alike, Antonio begins to realize that his true quest is one he could never have imagined.
   Weaving historical mystery and the supernatural, The Mascherari evokes a Venice that will leave your breathless.
** An Excerpt from The Mascherari**

Letter from Catarina Contarini to Antonio da Parma
25 December 1422

[..]
What is jealousy in a woman, inquisitor? You who have delved into the hearts of men and purged them from their errors. You would understand the dark matters that move us humans, perhaps better than priests. Do you know what jealousy can do to a woman, Signor da Parma? Men who laugh at our weakness would soon scorn and punish us if they knew to what ends we were driven by it.
The first time I saw them, it was at Mass.  Francesco Visconti and his wife, his cloak of scarlet velvet merely hiding the dire misery that had brought him to Venice, and the trail of her gown, black on the campo’s snow, like the stains she would soon wreak into my life.  In the early days, they’d not yet settled in the parish of San Giacomo dell’Orio. They lived in a rented house in north Castello and visited the Church of San Lorenzo every Sunday.  In manner of servants, they could afford little, save for one Armenian slave.
I remember that Giacomo’s wife never took part in the service, and remained outside, by the well.  She said that the incense made her ill. She also did not engage the women of the parish and I understood it to be because she would soon join another.  I did not begrudge her. It is difficult enough to make new friends in Venezia let alone to have to belong to two parishes.
I can still see her tall silhouette standing on the white pavement, peering into the well of the campo. She had the sort of grace that gives one chills. She was a woman of maybe thirty years. Her name was Magdalena. I do not relish describing to you what she looked like because it wrongs me to think again, of her charms. But did she have charms, you ask? 
Magdalena, she had charms in abundance. Here, the women who light a flame in men’s hearts are the fairest of skin, they are those with noble high brows, long gold locks, a carmine mouth–neither too small nor too large–with a hint of crimson on their pale cheekbones.  And still, even though she looked nothing like the ideal I have described, the Magdalena had charms. Not just the sort you were sure to find in her languorous dark eyes and carnal lips, or in the haunting perfume she left behind and which drove men to despair. There were charms of another sort, too, in the gold and silver of her bracelets and chains.
As for me, I likened the din of these metallic charms to a serenade from hell.  When the parish members congregated in the campo, gossiping of this and that, the noise grew thick around me. Still, I could hear her.  It was the metal round her wrists that rose me most. The incessant din of those chains drove me insane. I was tense through the parish meetings.
And long before Giacomo placed his hand on his heart when he saluted her after the service, I saw the knowing glint in his eyes when they first rested upon her.  I knew its meaning just as I knew him on my wedding night.
I was not yet jealous. Not yet. I was foolish enough, then, to still believe in my own charms as his lawful wife. I would have permitted him daily visits to the brothels of Castello, if he so wished, in the belief that he loved me and that the dreams he built were for our happiness.
“Magdalena Visconti has very little of a Milanese woman,” I told my husband.
Even then, I spoke with gaiety. You may not know the Venetian well.  Still you would have heard what they say about our manners. How we can affect this gaiety even as we seethe and scheme and what not.  It is not for naught that even French diplomats think of us as duplicitous. A Venetian, Antonio, is not easily read. But I assure you that even then, I spoke without spite, and nothing my husband would say could shake my belief that I was the pride of his hearth, and that this newcomer, with all her gold and jewelry, was mere distraction for his curiosity.
“Magdalena is not a Milanese,” came his curt reply. “She is the Napoli woman I once told you about, Cara Catarina. The woman I met in Verona…”
The long forgotten Napoletana. And she had returned in his life. Why did my husband’s gaze falter under mine? And why do we women persist with questions that will not be answered. His response had lessened my confidence for a short instant. But only for a short moment.


Laura Rahme was born in Dakar, Senegal where she spent her early childhood. Dakar's poverty and raw beauty left a strong impression on Laura. Deeply inspired by her Lebanese, French and Vietnamese heritage, she has a passion for covering historical and cultural ground in her writing. Laura holds degrees in Engineering and Psychology. Her non-writing career has seen her in the role of web developer, analyst programmer and business analyst. She lives in Australia but calls the world her home. She is the author of The Ming Storytellers and The Mascherari.
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