Sicilian wax sculptor Gaetano Zumbo left his hometown of Siracusa, Italy, at age 19, amid rumors of betrayal and patricide. On the run from his past, he made his way across Italy and changed his name to Zummo, all the while earning acclaim for his wax sculptures of human bodies. He eventually stopped in Florence to join the Medici court at the request of the Grand Duke himself, Cosimo III, whose unreciprocated love for his wife has left him tortured—and leads him to make a strange request of the celebrated sculptor.

Secrecy tells the story of Zummo’s work to complete the Grand Duke’s request—a life-size, lifelike woman made entirely out of wax—and his subsequent romance with the apothecary’s daughter, Faustina. His newfound love proves dangerous, and not just because Faustina has secrets of her own: In 17th-century Florence, pleasure carries a price. As Zummo navigates the complexities of the Italian city, both geographically and politically, he must learn to make peace with his past, even when it turns up on his doorstep.

Rupert Thomson is a celebrated British author with nine novels to his name, including The Insult, which David Bowie named to his list of 100 must-read novels of all time, and Death of a Murderer, which was shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year in 2007. Secrecy is full of bright, colorful descriptions of Florence, often including well-crafted metaphors and similes, which provide a perfectly contrasting setting to Zummo’s shady, twisted experiences.

Thomson’s thorough research and exceptional skill for the sort of detailed storytelling often missing in historical novels make Secrecy an absorbing and thrilling mystery, full of dark alleys, gray skies and cobblestone.

Haley Grogan is a full-time writer and editor living in Tuscaloosa, where she works as the assistant editor at the Alabama Alumni Magazine and as the managing editor of online magazine Literally, Darling.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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