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Poison for the Prince

Poison for the Prince - Elizabeth Eyre Historical mysteries have been around for awhile, but really began to grace the bestseller lists in the 1980s and 90s with the books of Anne Perry (Victorian England), Elizabeth Peters (Victorian and Edwardian England and Egypt) and Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael in Norman England). Around that era, two women who were former classmates, Jill Staynes and Margaret Storey, decided to pen their own historical mystery series under the pen name Elizabeth Eyre.

There were a total of six books, published once per year from 1991 to 1996. Poison for the Prince (1993) is a middle installment in this series set in the Italian Renaissance. Like the other books, it features courtier and sleuth Sigismondo, assisted by his shrewd half-wit servant Benno and a dog named Biondello. In this outing, Sigismondo and Benno are in the city of Viverra, where its weak and near-penniless ruler Prince Scipione is kept in power by high-priced mercenary Ridolfo Rodolfi. Scipione suffers from a chronic illness that the prince's wife and his alchemist attribute to fumes from the laboratory where the Prince works to replenish his supply of gold. Sigismondo, however, suspects poison and has a host of suspects including Scipione's cheating wife, his playboy son, the mysterious alchemist and a charismatic monk who preaches against alchemy.

"Publishers Weekly" noted that "Trailing after Eyre's sleuths is like making one's way through crowded fairgrounds--not much character development, but plenty of entertaining distractions." Kirkus was more complimentary, adding, "Less earnestly didactic than Sigismondo's earlier adventures, but still aswirl in enough Machiavellian plots, moonlit assignations, treacherous hirelings, and summary beheadings to keep you bedazzled in a perpetual haze of Renaissance chiaroscuro."

Sigismondo is an appealing character, once described as a brilliant deductionist who is bald like a monk but who fights like a soldier, while his slack-jawed manservant, Benno, is someone who has an air of amiable idiocy. Although London's publication "The Mail on Sunday" trumpeted that Sigismondo could well be starting a career to equal Ellis Peter's Brother Cadfael, the series never quite took off, and the books are mostly out of print now.