Sunday, May 5, 2024

Three Fires - Denise Mina

As I write this we should have been halfway to Scotland, but a misplaced screw in the car tire has changed plans - at least the sun is shining, the company is good, and we're safely at home rather than enjoying the full joys of a blow out somewhere on the M1. Missing the projected lunch at The Angel in Corbridge is a wrench, but a little Tesco picnic is far preferable to sitting for hours on a hard shoulder. New tires tomorrow and hopefully plans will be resumed. 

On to 'Three Fires', I loved Mina's 'Rizzio', the opening book in Polygon's Darklands series, and was excited to see that she's returned to both the novella format and historical fiction with this account of the rise and fall of Savonarola in Renaissance Florence. 'Three Fires' has a lot in common with 'Rizzio', the same narrative style complete with asides, the same punchy attitude and pacing, and the same ability to give complicated personalities the nuance they deserve even in so short a space.

The story opens at Savonarola's trial and conviction in 1498, then skips back to Ferrara in 1470 where the younger Savonarola is about to suffer a disappointment in love. Mina casts him as something of an incel who turns to the church. It's also a turbulent and violent time in Ferrara, and this too leaves it's mark on the young man.

The church doesn't seem to know what to do with its priest, he's charismatic but also confrontational - slowly he hones his skills as a preacher, and then he truly lights a fire of zealotry amongst the people. It's really not what the church wanted. Mina also draws a direct line between Savonarolla and the populists of today, right down to his ploy of blaming the Jews, the homosexuals, the women, for the damned state of society. It's not a subtle point but it's done well.

As the action reaches a climax and Savonarola starts to lose his grip on the populace he becomes a somewhat more sympathetic character, or maybe we just see more of the complexity of the man - after all, nobody had to listen to him or act on his exhortations. Whatever he got wrong, the price paid for it is high - not just death, but weeks of torture first. Things, as we know, can so very quickly spin out of control.

A short and powerful book with a threat of dark humour running alongside an anger that we never seem to learn. I really liked this one. 

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