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.
This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage, a monthly book review publication distributed to more than 450,000 avid readers through subscribing bookstores and public libraries. It can also be found on BookPage.com. Download the entire May 2014 issue for the Kindle or Nook.