Book Review: Alana White’s Sign of the Weeping Virgin

Posted February 20, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Alana White’s Sign of the Weeping Virgin

Sign of the Weeping Virgin

in Hardcover edition on December 19, 2012 and has 384 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

An historical mystery set in 1480 Florence with an adherent of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Guid’Antonio, investigating again.

Yup, just learned it is a series — the Five Star Mystery. I have no idea why she’s calling it the “Five Star” as White has a long way to go to achieve that rating.

For some reason I’m feeling generous in giving White a “3” — must be all the good research and few mechanical errors. It certainly isn’t the copious loose threads and wandering storyline.

My Take

Kudos to White for the beautifully researched background for 1480 Florence. She did a lovely job of interweaving history into her mystery. That said, I found the telling of the tale to be very melodramatic and, in some ways, I couldn’t wait to be done with it. The writing is immature and needs tightening. White kept dragging it out, and I was getting so bored, although I did enjoy how well she set her scenes.

Her characters need more depth. Lorenzo the Magnificent did not come across all that magnificently, but more as an unsure young man stepping into his father’s shoes much too early. Nor was I impressed with the lackadaisical approach of Guid’Antonio and Amerigo to their investigation. It was a lot of talk without much action until the end. What was with their going off to examine the baths and then they turn around before they ever get there? As for questioning the father…that seemed rather obvious, and not something to postpone. Whatever did they discover about the Virgin’s tears? Why was Giuliano with the Pazzis anyway?

Okay, so Guid’Antonio has been away from Florence and his family for two years. Nobody writes? Nobody keeps him informed as to what is happening in the city? Nobody says anything to Amerigo?

There are all these hints dropped about Maria’s fidelity… The possibility for tension with his wife is set up…and it goes nowhere. I’m not buying Maria’s whining about how Guid’Antonio worked for Lorenzo alone. If she’s been raised in Italy, in Florentine society, she has to know how to keep her bread buttered…! Although, White did provide a LOT of tension in the opening chapters. Teasing me with all these ominous hints of changes and infidelity. I must say, if things really had gotten so bad, wouldn’t someone, Cesare?, have mentioned that the men should be careful on their first day back in the city?

Why is the changed lock never explained? I can’t imagine that Guid’Antonio has gone off without any servants, nor that he and Amerigo would be riding alone all that distance. Family boss? White throws out these little barbs from Guid’Antonio about Lorenzo, which also go nowhere. White also makes a point of marking the difference between the rotten food available in the market with the enticing food that appears on the Vespucci table, but we never learn where it comes from. For that matter, where is Elisabetta at dinner?

What’s with all the story padding with Lorenzo’s mistresses and the one who got away from Guid’Antonio? Yes, padding. White throws these tidbits in to bring in the sex, and she’d have been better off concentrating on the love scenes Guid’Antonio has with his wife. Unless, of course, she’s setting the stage for future installments. What was the point of the little sojourn off to Lorenzo’s farm? Felt like more padding to me. Then after all his promises to Maria, there’s that ending. On the plus side, the lack of conflict over it is typical White.

White has set it up to perform as a series. While I appreciate her attention to history and incorporating it accurately into the story, I would love it if she would provide the same attention to her characters and the actual execution of her plot.

The Story

It’s been twenty-seven years since Mehmet took Constantinople and the unity wrought by that disaster has evaporated, especially with Sixtus IV needing more and more cities for his family to rule. Makes me think of Napoleon propping up all those thrones with his siblings’ backsides.

After serving two years as ambassador to the French court of Louis XI drumming up support for the Medicis, Guid’Antonio and his young secretary/nephew, Amerigo, are finally heading home.

The Characters

The forty-four-year-old Guid’Antonio Vespucci is both friend and supporter of Lorenzo de’Medici and has a doctorate of law. Maria del Vigna is his second wife; Giovanni is his five-year-old son. Mona Alessandra del Vigna, Maria’s mother, is ill. Cesare Ridolfi is his manservant. The one who stayed in Italy while his master went to France. Olimpia Pasquale is the lusty nurse for his son. Domenica is Cesare’s mother and the household cook.

Amerigo Vespucci is the twenty-six-year-old nephew who accompanied Guid’Antonio to France as his secretary. Doesn’t seem to have learnt much in terms of thinking before he speaks. Antonio is Amerigo’s older brother and a notary who has kept the Vespucci businesses earning while Guid’Antonio and Amerigo were in France. Nastagio is Amerigo and Antonio’s father and very anti-Lorenzo; Elisabetta is his bitchy wife. Brother Giorgio is another uncle, and he hasn’t been told the state of the family finances.

Lorenzo de’Medici is the thirty-one-year-old unofficial head of Florentine government. He is married to Clarice Orsini, a Roman, and they have two sons: Piero and Giovanni. Giuliano is his younger brother. Bianca is their sister, unfortunately married to Guglielmo de’Pazzi, Francesco’s brother. Angelo Poliziano had been a friend of Lorenzo’s until he paid him back with cowardice. Lorenzino and Giovanni are under Lorenzo’s guardianship; too bad he’s thieving from them. Lucrezia Tornabuoni de’Medici is Lorenzo’s powerhouse of a mother.

The government of Florence
Chancellor Bartolomeo Scala is worn down with governing Florence and worrying over his wife Madalena‘s sixth pregnancy. Alessandro Braccesi is Scala’s assistant. There are nine Lords Prior including: Tommaso Soderini, who is also the Gonfaloniere of Justice and Lorenzo’s uncle by marriage — and suspected of plotting against him; Antonio Capponi; Pierfilippo Pandolfini; and, Piero di Nasi.

Palla Palmierie is Florence’s chief of police (?). Sandro Botticelli is finishing up a fresco in the Ognissanti Church, a commission from the Vespuccis. Leonardo da Vinci has just opened his own shop. Luca Landucci is an apothecary, who will work on figuring out how the tears work in exchange for advance warning. Neri Saginetto owns a pleasant tavern that he runs with help from his beautiful daughter Evangelista.

Brother Martino Leone seems to have gone mad with Brother Paolo trying to chase him down and both of them guarded by Ferdinando Bongiovi. Roberto Ughi is the father abbot and a supporter of Sixtus. Brother Battista Bellincioni is the almoner.

The beauteous Camilla Rossi da Vinci is married to a fat wine merchant, Castruccio Senso. Margherita is her ancient nurse; Luigi is her young slave. Jacopo Rossi da Vinci is her very angry father. Senso is doing business with Salvestro Aboati.

The enemies of Medici Florence

The Pazzi conspirators
Francesco de’Pazzi struck the remaining blows once Bernardo Bandini‘s axe fell. Piero Vespucci, a relative, is in the Stinche while his son, Marco, is exiled.

Pope Sixtus IV wants Lorenzo and the Medicis dead and gone. He’s recently completed the construction of the chapel that will come to be known as the Sistine, but he needs the Florentine artisans to make it beautiful. Count Girolamo Riario is one of Sixtus’ nephews and a vicious, greedy man.

King Ferrante of Naples has allied with the pope. Prince Alfonzo leads Ferrante’s troops against Florence.

The Cover

The cover has a Renaissance feel to it with an intricate gray-green carved border blending into the waters under the golden-hued bridge outside the city of Florence, and its tinted golden sky blending into the weeping Virgin.

The title terrifies the Florentines into wondering if God has abandoned them when they learn of The Sign of the Weeping Virgin.