50 in One Fell Swoop

There I was, lying in bed reading, wincing and grimacing as the book reached its climax. I don’t want to say any more, so that you get to experience this thrill yourself!

I recently read The Four Horsemen, the last 50 pages in one fell swoop because I couldn’t put it down! Gregory Dowling is the master at leaving you panting at the end of each chapter.

Alvise Marangon is such a clever protagonist, in his own estimation so adept at “improvising” in tough situations, and so knowledgeable as a cicerone (tour guide). He’s also sarcastic and witty and smart. The Four Horsemen is the second in the series of Marangon murder mysteries.


Alvise encounters a couple bravi near the lions adjacent to the Basilica.


When I set down the book, I’d remember that all this comes from Gregory Dowling, who must know Venice inside and out–inside churches, a bookstore, and taverns as well as each canal, alley, and campo. He’s lived there for over 30 years and teaches at Ca’ Foscari. He brings the 18th century to life with every step Alvise takes, which, as a lover of Venice, I particularly love.


The Fondaco dei Turchi, where a tense scene occurs.


A few scenes take place on Giudecca, including near the Church of Sant’Eufemia.

And as an added bonus while reading, I got to know a noblewoman, a spoiled nobleman, a casino owner, a bookshop owner, some street urchins, tavern folk, an office clerk, a maid, Greek visitors, and the Missier Grande, as well as many other typical Venetians–a real joy to get to inhabit their world. In Casanova’s memoirs, I’ve read about the Missier Grande, sort of the chief of police, but Gregory’s depiction of him humanizes him into a complex being, not just a paper cutout.

S Maria Formosa

Campo Santa Maria Formosa, where Alvise meets the friends who will take him to a salotto.

Alvise also attends a salotto, the kind of literary salon that I researched for my book on Venetian woman. I don’t have a gift for recreating places and times and people. Gregory does. I felt like I had gone from a two dimensional to a three dimensional scene in my head, picturing one of these literary evenings.


Partial depiction of a literary salon and the clothing that would have been worn, recreated at the Palazzo Mocenigo museum.

I can tell that Gregory loves to play with words. Take this bit, for instance, when Alvise is trying to convince the Missier Grande that he is not too drunk: “‘That is unfair, Illustrissimo,’ I said, forgetting all caution in my indignation; even as I spoke the last word, I was all too aware of the slushiness of its sibilants. I instantly felt my cheeks flaring with embarrassment. I hoped it would not add to the overall impression of vinous befuddlement.” Both alliteration and assonance, ten dollar words and wit. I could hold this up to my high school students as an example of narrative voice and lively style.

In this book as well as Ascension, the first in the Alvise Marangon series, Gregory presents the most authentic and fullest portrait of Venice I’ve encountered in a novel. I’m already waiting for the next one!

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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6 Responses to 50 in One Fell Swoop

  1. Jane Fleming says:

    I finished this last week too and can’t recommend it highly enough to any lover of Venice. I chuckle at Alvise’s sense of humour, the constant scrapes that he manages to get himself into (but also to escape!) Having just visited the Palazzo Queirni Stampalia a couple of weeks before I read this I was on that tiny bridge alighting from my gondola with Alvise, joining the salon and emerging into the dark of the piazza. Never mind the teaching Mr Dowling, we need another one in the series!

    • I agree! Can’t wait to read the next one. In the meantime, Jane, you should read his early novels if you haven’t already done so. Alvise’s not there, but Gregory still takes you through Venice and other locales with his witty, curious characters.

  2. Yvonne says:

    I really liked his first book, I’d better let the moths out of my purse and get the 2nd one!

  3. Thank you for the reminder. Just ordered it.

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