The Courtesan's Lover is exactly the sort of book to keep you occupied over Christmas as you sip mulled wine before a cosy fire. In fact I would liken it to mulled wine - rich, deep and satisfying!
Set in a beautifully realised Renaissance Italy, it tells the story of Francesca Felizzi, a wealthy courtesan, who decides to 'go straight.' The first section of the book shows us her life as a courtesan - the glamour and the potential danger are neatly interwoven. For the book to work this part has to be believable and the author spends some time setting this up, so we understand just what a courtesan's life would have been like, right down to how a citrus fruit is used as a contraceptive device!.The setting of Napoli is impeccably researched; the nitty-gritty of Francesca's business is described frankly, but there is nothing here that would shock the average reader.
Once Francesca falls in love, the rest of the book is concerned with how her former clients interact with each other, and how each past encounter now poses a danger to the one true relationship in her life. The reader is kept on tenterhooks wondering which of her lovers will betray her. There are plenty of colourful characters, not least her servant Modesto, a eunuch, whose plight is both touching and sad. There can be few books that examine the tragedy of these young boys whose voices were preserved by the worst kind of intervention.
There is plenty of danger to add spice to this romance.
We fear for Francesca's life when she entertains the sadistic Michele - the client from hell, and fear for her daughters at the hands of the irrational Carlo, her lover's son. Gabrielle Kimm racks up the tension and the pace so it builds nicely to its conclusion.
The Courtesan's Lover is a well-written pageturner, a good old fashioned story with action, romance and a sumptuous setting. Very highly recommended.