by Kathleen Costa
This week we have a review of The Gallery of Beauties, a debut mystery novel by Nina Wachsman, along with an interesting interview with Nina. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
The Gallery of Beauties by Nina Wachsman
Venice, 1612. A golden age for the city and for women of talent, beauty, and ambition. —Website Synopsis
Diana is approached by a charismatic artist expressing his deep regard for her beauty, her eyes of a lavender hue. Mattie Correr, a Venetian portrait painter, has been commissioned by his patron the Earl of Arundel, dubbed The Collector, to paint the “most enchanting women” for his Gallery of Beauties. She is not easily seduced, but she is conflicted by the artist’s desire to paint her portrait; she has her own dreams and desires stifled by the gated boundaries and curfews of the Ghetto. As a widow these past three years and daughter of chief rabbi and tutor Leon de Modena, Diana weighs the benefits of earning money they desperately need against whether it violates any Jewish law. She accepts the proposal excited about the subterfuge and masquerade she would need to undertake.
Diana is both excited and anxious about her new adventure, and in the company of the Earl, his designer, and the artist, she is afforded an opportunity to meet Belladonna, a well-known courtesan, whose years in Venice has furnished her financial independence, acquaintance with several influential people, and anonymity from her past. The Earl is enamored by her beauty making a proclamation she, too, must be part of his Gallery of Beauties, but someone is not so taken with Belladonna depositing a body at the steps of her palazzo…one of the “Beauties,” Diana recognizes, and Belladonna’s protégé.
The two women, diverse in their background and social status, have a common desire to keep their true identities hidden, a common interest in Diana’s family, and now with the murder, a common ground of self-preservation. But, careful they must be. All aspects of Venice society (social, legal, commercial, and religious) are held in control by the “Council of Ten,” a ruthless group of wealthy, influential men who act as judge, jury, and punisher, and someone among them may be targeting the “Beauties” of Venice.
The Gallery of Beauties Earns 5+/5 Carnevale Masks…Compelling Gem!
A dangerous book. Political rivals. Religious conflict. An assassin in the shadows. Nina Wachsman painted a sensory-laden picture of seventeenth century Venice rich with fashion, architecture, historical references, and a well-planned murder plot. The drama was complex, yet easy to follow, with several key figures having motives from a political power grab, greed, revenge, and jealousy all wrapped up in cultural diversity, societal complexities, narrow streets of dark water, and Carnevale. I couldn’t put it down, skipping nothing as Jewess Diana and Courtesan Belladonna worked in tandem to uncover a murderer, stay alive themselves, and making decisions for one’s future and the other’s past. The book is organized in short chapters, my favorite, filled with a well-developed mystery, informative details, and intriguing suspense, yet it is easy to manage with titles to indicate which character, Diana or Belladonna, has the third-person narrative focus. The italics and untitled chapters indicate, at first, an unidentified killer, then, the key figure identity and hidden motives keeping the reader in the know. The ending was satisfying with answers and varying levels of justice, but some personal issues for the women remain in flux…a book two? This brilliant drama had me hooked, and is a candidate for my Top Reads of 2022 list!
Be a Big Fan of Nina Wachsman!
Nina Wachsman loves reading and writing historical mysteries using her personal experience, additional research, and family connections to enrich her work as “the descendant of a famous rabbi of the Ghetto and the Sabbath candlesticks are a family heirloom from the Venetian Ghetto.”
Interview with Nina Wachsman:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Nina: Started only about 5 years ago, after my brother died, and I decided if I didn’t indulge my secret passion for writing now, I never would.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Nina: The Gallery of Beauties, which is set in Venice in 1612. An artist’s commission to paint the twelve most beautiful women in Venice stirs up dangerous passions and leads to murder. Two very different women, a notorious courtesan and a rabbi’s scholarly daughter are brought together by the artist, and must use their wits and skills to unmask the murderer.
Nina: I’ve been dabbling in horror as well. I have a story coming out in Scare Street this month, and another paranormal mystery I sold to Mystery magazine.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Nina: I love Venice, and go there every two years for the Art Fair. I know the city well, and I am a descendant of a chief rabbi of Venice.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
Nina: I love reading historical mysteries, so that made me want to write them.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Nina: I work full time, so whenever I can.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Nina: Sundays work best for me, or else very early in the morning.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Nina: I outline, using the Save the Cat structure, and then I write the synopsis, which I try to follow.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Nina: I knew nothing about writing, and didn’t know how to do anything, including writing a query or synopsis. It was going to conferences that helped me get on the right track.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Nina: With my current novel, The Gallery of Beauties, I had a well-known agent who was interested in it. At the time, I had only the barest bones of a first draft. So, I sent it. He rejected it, but gave me very pointed criticism and direction on how to improve it, which I took and changed it so it became published.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Nina: I spoke in a Jewish Center and expected only a handful of people, and ended up with 50 people, which kind of scared me. It did work out, and many did buy my book.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Nina: To have the time write all the books I have in my head. Right now, there are 3.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
Nina: Peter Lovesey, Martin Edwards, whose work is so well crafted.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Nina: I subscribe to Academia, which sends me any papers of interest on Venice. I also look at a lot of paintings, to find out what people wore or what Venice was like at the time.
KRL: What do you like to read?
Nina: I love to read, historical mysteries mostly. Sometimes private eye, types of books.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Nina: I love Stranger Things, Mrs. Maisel, and What We Do in the Shadows.
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Nina: Go to conferences, join organizations like Sisters in Crime to learn from other writers.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Nina: In my day job, I work on helping people with rare diseases to clinical trials.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Nina: I love the mystery writer’s community. They are so supportive and interesting.
To enter to win a copy of The Gallery of Beauties, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “gallery,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 13, 2022. US only, and must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win-it will be deleted after the giveaway. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode goes up next week.
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