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City of Dead is a murder mystery set in and around Kubla Khan's Xanadu and features the Venetian adventurer Nick Zuliani, the book is set in the 13th century and is written by Ian Morson. I've been enjoying the medieval murderer's series which features a string of connecting stories written by popular historical fiction writers. One of my favourite sections of the books tended to feature the Venetian adventurer Nick Zuliani who during his travels, business, espionage activities tends to become embroiled in murder mysteries. Nick is a likeable character, a bit of a rogue, young, attractive to women and a man others tend to trust, he has a knowledge of the complex machinations growing up in Venice gives and has a tendency to produce a bit of slight of hand to get himself out of any trouble, he reminds me of a 12th century Dell Boy, always a scam or a bit of trickery to get the next chance or next fortune but there's no malice in him.
This was the first full novel I'd read featuring Nick and it takes Nick from the canals of Venice to the seat of Mongol power at the site of the legendary Xanadu, Nick is asked by a priest to be his bodyguard for his journey to Xanadu and to find the fabled Prester John the fabled Christian king in the East. Nick is unenthusiastic but certain events in Venice make him want to leave the city quickly so he accepts the job and finds himself on the way to Xanadu. The priest is looking for a friend in the city, however, the friend soon turns up dead in the most public manner and Nick is asked by the Mongol authorities to look into the Europeans at court and to try and find out who wanted the man dead. Nick must therefore break into the inner palace and find out whom and how the man died, along the way he will encounter beautiful courtesans, oily politicians and the occasional helpful Mongol minister.
The book rather races along and the reader has little time to truly follow the series of events unfolding, these gives the book a sense of pace and drive but does rather hide the implausibility of the events and the pretty poor English used at times. There are plenty of fights, love scenes, intrigues and scandal but the book didn't work for me, perhaps one of the pleasures of the Zuliani short stories was that they were nearly always set in either Venice or Italy so intrigue and political machinations fit in with the decadent city life and Nick's tendency to get involved with activities that are at best borderline legal. In this book, we have a Venician, a couple of other Italians and no-one else from Europe in Kubla Khan's court so the murderer was always a bit obvious.
This book was enjoyable in the same manner a Flashman novel is fun, and not to be taken too seriously, however, as a murder mystery is just missed the mark and makes this reader want to find a Nick Zuliani book set in Venice. I've enjoyed Ian Morson's Falconer series set in Oxford so have no doubts he's a capable and well structured writer so have hopes that others in the Zuliani series are better or maybe I'll just enjoy him as a 30-50 page short story in the next Medieval murderer's book.