Friday, August 4, 2023

Blood On the Tiber by B. M. Howard (The Gracchus and Vanderville Mysteries Book Two)


Publication Date: August 10, 2023

Length: 401 pages

Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC of this book.

This book takes place during the era after the French Revolution and before the pinnacle of the Napoleonic Wars. It is not a time period covered as commonly in historical fiction and the setting being Italy it is even more obscure. I had not read book one in the series yet but you don't have to as the author gives enough background on the characters to understand the story.

Felix Gracchus has been suffering from malaria and has awakened in the French embassy realizing how ill he has been and frustrated at his slow recovery. He is grateful to the nurse who has treated him throughout his condition and wants to find her to thank her. She has been difficult to locate and unbeknownst to Gracchus, this will resurface later as he becomes involved in a mysterious case involving a family inheritance. 

Gracchus is glad to find out his friend and younger former colleague, Lieutenant Vanderville has been assigned to the Embassy and will be infiltrating the group of rebels who are deemed Patriots to the revolutionary cause running underground in Rome and keeping an eye on their often violent activities. The two men are as different as night and day but have an underlying respect for each other due to prior involvement in a case. 

As Gracchus continues to recover and get out more, he and Vanderville are often in the company of Joseph Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon and ambassador of the French Republic to Rome. They get to know Joseph's wife, mother-in-law, sister Caroline, and sister-in-law, Desiree and accompany them in certain settings. Also often present at dinner or events is Cardinal Cesarini, an ambitious man in charge of the Pope's police unit, who will use every advantage to get ahead in the political, religious world of Rome. 

When Gracchus is mysteriously attacked and works to find out who is behind it he is drawn to the home of a strange, reclusive widow, living in squalor in a home on her stepson's property, who also happens to be the Cardinal himself. The woman tells him the story of how she came to be at the mercy of him and that she wants Gracchus to help her retrieve a painting which will reveal clues to an inheritance she says rightfully belongs to her own biological children and herself. Initially, Gracchus believes he can help the woman and that the case is intriguing, but not especially dangerous. As things progress, he realizes it goes much deeper and darker than he ever imagined. He will need his friend Vanderville and a lot of skills to unravel the detailed story and to get to the bottom of the twisted truth.

The level of historical detail and vocabulary is impressive in this novel. I found myself having to slow down a bit and concentrate the way I might in a classic book. Having read a lot of quick, cozy mysteries lately, it is challenging to pick up a story such as this and find I'm needing to even re-read parts and look at the cast of characters to keep everything straight. This is not light reading for sure. The descriptions of Rome and the underground revolutionary movement are well done and informative in a way I'd never seen in another book, making this one of the most unique historical mysteries I've read yet. 

While I admire the author's research and writing, I wasn't thrilled with the ending. It was a bit macabre for my taste.  I guess I like my mysteries to end on a more pleasant note. Again, maybe that comes from reading too many cozy mysteries, but readers should know that this isn't for the faint of heart! It is gritty and dark and shocking when you get to the conclusion. 

Overall I'd say this book was well researched, articulate, and interesting but I probably won't be reading another in this series due to the graphic nature of it. It just wasn’t my style. 


  1. Fabulous review! It does not sound like something I would enjoy either (the ending!). I have not read much from this time period either.

    1. Yes, I was really excited to read something set in that time and place. It was just too dark for me! Thanks Cindy!

  2. This does sound like a very interesting setting!

    Thanks for sharing your review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge!

    1. It was definitely original and I learned a lot historically speaking. Thanks Marg! And as always, thanks for your hard work each month on the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. It has been such fun participating and seeing everyone's additions!