Cover image for The thief of Venice : a Homer Kelly mystery
The thief of Venice : a Homer Kelly mystery
Langton, Jane.
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Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 1999.
Physical Description:
247 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

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Never has Jane Langton been more enchanting or thrilling than in her fourteenth Homer Kelly mystery, The Thief of Venice. In a setting splendidly evoked by her line drawings, characters from the wryly innocent to the brilliantly sinister play out a serpentine story of divine mystery, immortal art, and mortal remains.The seductive city of Venice has lured Homer Kelly to a rare books conference and his wife, Mary, into the streets of the city, armed with a camera. While Homer basks in the Biblioteca Marciana, Mary's snapshots reveal more than she intended. In one of her simple tourist images of San Marco, gondolas on jade-green canals, the Rialto Bridge, the labyrinthine streets, the house of Tintoretto, and the Ghetto Vecchio, appears the figure of a missing woman. Thus begins a case that leads to a bona fide miracle and the discovery of a treasure painfully recalling the fate of Venetian Jews in World War II, culminating in an elaborate chase across a maze of ancient bridges as the acqua alta water rises up out of the canals, threatening all Venetians!

Author Notes

One of Penguin's top-selling mystery authors, Jane Langton is the author of fourteen other Homer Kelly mysteries.

(Publisher Provided) Jane Langton was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1922. She studied astronomy at Wellesley College and the University of Michigan and did graduate work in art history at the University of Michigan and Radcliffe College.

She is the author children's books and adult mysteries. Her titles include the Homer Kelly mysteries, the Hall Family Chronicles, The Diamond in the Window, Divine Inspiration, The Face on the Wall and the Deserter.

Her won a Nero Wolfe Award and an Edgar Award for Emily Dickinson is Dead and her title The Fledgling was a Newberry Honor Book.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

The Homer Kelly series is usually set in Massachusetts (Homer and wife Mary teach at Harvard), but occasionally Langton takes the amiable pair--ever-enthusiastic Homer and more subued but equally perceptive Mary--on the road. This fourteenth entry finds them returning to Italy, scene of The Dante Game (1991). The venue here is Venice rather than Florence, but the travelogue tone is equally infectious, as Homer settles in to study Renaissance manuscripts, and Mary sets out, guidebook in hand, to see the city. She does exactly that (tourists would do well to follow her footsteps), but along the way, she becomes involved with a handsome doctor, who turns out to be a particularly vile murderer. The tangled plot jumps between the personal and spiritual problems of the Kellys' host, a librarian, and the discovery of art treasures hidden by Venetian Jews during World War II. As the water rises during Venice's dreaded acqua alta season, Mary and Homer slosh their way across the city, tracking a killer and facing a marital crisis. An ideal diversion for those who like to combine travel research with a little murder. (Reviewed April 15, 1999)0670882100Bill Ott



Chapter One Many novels start with a funeral and end with a wedding. This one begins with everything at the same time--a robbery, a proposal of marriage, and a murder. * * * Schoolgirls streamed out of the Scuola di Nostra Signora della Consolazione. They gathered in clots and clusters and hurried away, chattering and laughing. The last to come out was a little fat girl. She lingered until the others were gone, then started home by herself.     "Ursula!" Sister Maddalena stood in the doorway, calling after her.     The child turned around with a blank face.     Sister Maddalena frowned. "Ursula, did you take money out of my cash box? Let me see your backpack."     Without a word the little girl untangled herself from the straps and handed the backpack to Sister Maddalena.     "Humph," said Sister Maddalena, groping inside it. "I'm sorry to accuse you, Ursula, but you remember that I caught you stealing before."     Ursula hunched herself into her pack again and walked out of the schoolyard without a word.     The shop was on the way home. Ursula took the money out of the pocket of her school uniform and set it on the counter, plink, plink , and pointed to the one she wanted.     The man behind the counter looked at the coins. The child must have known it wasn't enough, she had bought so many before. "Ah, well, it will do. This one is a little chipped." Chapter Two Dottoressa Lucia Costanza walked along the Molo from the San Marco vaporetto stop, edging past throngs of tourists and flocks of pigeons. Turning left onto the Piazzetta she strode past the Ducal Palace and the west front of San Marco, not bothering to glance at its fanciful domes and gilded pinnacles. Instead she looked up at the clock tower, where the winged lion of Saint Mark displayed his famous book with its angelic blessing, PAX TIBI MARCE EVANGELISTA MEUS. On the top of the tower she could clearly see the bronze bell-ringers in the metal bearskins that did not quite conceal their private parts.     The big clock told her she was late on her first morning as a newly hired member of the Procuratori di San Marco. Quicening her steps, she turned into the Piazzetta dei Leoncini, whirled past the north side of the basilica, hurried into the Palazzo Patriarcale, sped through the first courtyard, nodded at a stranger loitering at the foot of the stairs, and ran up to her new office.     It was a beautiful office, and Lucia was anxious to deserve it. Closing the door, she went quickly to the window to relish again the view of the second courtyard, with its crazed miscellany of architectural fragments plastered around the imbedded buttress of the basilica.     "Buongiorno, Dottoressa."     Lucia twirled around in surprise to see her assistant, Tommaso Bernardi, bowing with formal courtesy.     "Oh, buongiorno , Signor Bernardi. I didn't see you." She smiled at him, wondering if his bow was ironic. She knew that he had been a candidate himself for the opening on this prestigious board. He must be disappointed at not becoming the latest in the long line of citizen procurators, stretching back for a thousand years. In the days of the Republic they had worn robes of red silk with velvet stoles. The robes were gone now, and so was the necessity upon investiture to distribute bread to the poor and wine to the gondoliers. But the distinction remained. Lucia hoped Bernardi would not feel a grudge against her, because she needed his advice. He was an old hand. He could teach her the ways of the place.     "Signor Bernardi, I hope you will call me Lucia."     He looked shocked. He did not suggest that she call him Tommaso. He came forward, holding a card between finger and thumb as if it were an oily rag, and dropped it on her desk. "A person wishes to see you."     Lucia glanced at the card. At once she recognized the name. Dottor Samuele Bell was a famous personage in the city, celebrated for his scholarship and for his important position in the Library of Saint Mark.     "Of course, of course. Tell him to come right up." Lucia jumped out of her chair. "I'll tell him myself."     Dismayed, Signor Bernardi stood out of the way as she ran past him. She was halfway down the stairs when her visitor appeared below her, ascending slowly. Lucia hurried down with her hand out. For the rest of his life Sam Bell would remember the broad smile and the welcoming hand.     "I hope," said Lucia, "that the curator of rare books in the Biblioteca Marciana will become a friend and colleague. I'm going to need your help. I need everyone's help. I don't know anything yet."     Sam's tongue failed him. It was hard to believe that this majestic woman could be ignorant of anything. As she turned and walked up with him the rest of the way she said impulsively, "Your exhibition, I'm so eager to see it. Am I too late to apply for the conference?"     "Oh, Dottoressa Costanza, you don't need to apply. You will be our honored guest. And I hope you'll let me give you a tour of the exhibition." He beamed at her, then smiled with less conviction at Signor Bernardi as Lucia introduced him.     "Molto piacere," said Sam politely.     "Piacere mio," said Bernardi, standing his ground.     "Thank you, Signor Bernardi," said Lucia, hoping he would have the intelligence to remove himself.     He did, but only slowly, looking back with suspicion and failing to close the door.     Lucia closed it gently herself, and smiled. "Do sit down and tell me what I can do for you."     Since yesterday Doctor Samuele Bell had been transformed from a reasonable person into a creature of impulse. Nothing mattered anymore. He could do what he liked. He put his hands on Lucia's desk and leaned forward as she sat down. Words came out of his mouth. He said, "Marry me. Please marry me."     There was only the slightest pause, and then Lucia said amiably, "Why, certainly. Oh, well, of course as it happens, I'm married already, but who cares about a little thing like that?" She glanced playfully around the room. "All we need now is a justice of the peace." She grinned at him. "Well, now that we've settled that, sit down and tell me what you're really here for. And please call me Lucia."     He sat down, feeling like a fool. It was all very well to tell himself that nothing mattered, but of course everything did matter. He had blundered into her office and smashed all the delicate china and behaved like an idiot. But Dottoressa Costanza--Lucia!--had forgiven him, she had made a joke of it.     He wanted to fall on his knees. "And you must call me Sam. It's an American nickname, because, you see, my father was an American." He could hear himself dithering. He stopped and began again. "My request is this." He cleared his throat and tried to speak formally, as one important official to another. "I hope you will give me permission to make a scientific examination of the sacred relics in the Treasury of San Marco in order to determine their authenticity. Your predecessor refused to consider the matter. I hope you'll be more open-minded."     "What? You want to examine the relics?" Lucia stared at him openmouthed, then threw back her head and laughed. It was a loud unmusical bray of a laugh. "You want to borrow all the holy relics in the basilica as if it were a public library? Dottor Bell--Sam--you must be mad."     He laughed too. "Well, perhaps insanity runs in my family. But, Dottoressa Lucia, isn't it time someone took a careful look at all those miscellaneous bones and scraps of wood? Where do they come from? The saints' bones, per esempio , are some of them from dogs, cats, sheep? Are the pieces of the True Cross just miscellaneous scraps of wood from some carpenter's workshop? Look here, I'm not only a librarian, I've got a degree in natural science. I can tell a human bone from--"     Lucia lifted her hand, smiling. "Well, it's absolutely outrageous, but I'll see what I can do." She turned her head as a saxophone in one of the distant swing bands on the piazza uttered a loud bleat, sending a squadron of pigeons flying up past the window. "Perhaps Father Urbano in San Marco would not be too shocked. He's a reasonable man. But--she turned back to Sam--"you mustn't breathe a word of this to anyone else. There'd be a riot."     "A riot, of course. Yes, of course I promise to say nothing. And, Dottoressa, you're right about Father Urbano. He's only a priest, but he reminds me of that great humanist pope, Nicholas the Fifth. Thank you, Dottoressa."     "Lucia."     He murmured it obediently, "Lucia," and stood up to go, teetering a little in his excitement.     She stood up too, and asked a question of her own. "Isn't Signor Kelly a friend of yours?"     "Signor Homer Kelly? Why, yes, he is."     Lucia fell back in her chair. "He wrote me a letter. He tells me he's coming to your conference. But I think"--once again she went off into a gale of laughter--"I think he's another madman. Good-bye, Sam." Copyright © 1999 Jane Langton. All rights reserved.