The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas

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The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: Lavish historical mystery set in beautiful renaissance Italy where a new bride investigates the murder of her predecessor.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: April 2013
Publisher: Preface
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781848093836

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Elizabeth Loupas, it seems, was not the first author to be inspired by the intrigue and scandal of the renaissance court of Ferrera. The poem My Last Duchess by Robert Browning, first published in 1842 is an elegiac account reflecting the popular view that Duke Alfonso d’Este murdered his first wife Lucrezia de Medici because of her unfaithfulness. Loupas explores some of the themes raised in the poem and cleverly combines elements of Browning’s work with true historical accounts to create an appealing murder-mystery set against the sumptuous backdrop of renaissance Italy.

The story is told from a first-person perspective by Barbara of Austria, the new duchess. She arrives with much pomp and ceremony in Ferrera for her arranged marriage to Alfonso, but even before the wedding she hears disturbing whispers that her husband-to-be is a cold blooded murderer. As much as she tries to ignore the court gossip, her own insecurities and uneasiness compel her to investigate matters further, even if it may ultimately cost her life.

The excesses and luxuries of life in the Ferrera court are exquisitely described. Loupas has the delightful skill of drawing the reader into each scene, relating in detail the heady scents, textures, food and architecture of Italy. The characters are expertly drawn and I enjoyed the way that Loupas contrasted the plain, clever and sensible new duchess with the youthful, fleshy and promiscuous first duchess, who was only a teenager when she died. Even the secondary characters are given depth and complexity, particularly Alfonso’s two unmarried sisters, who are malicious and scheming. I also liked the way that Barbara and Alfonso’s relationship developed as the book progressed. Barabara is such a likeable character, we genuinely care about what happens to her and are rooting for her to find happiness and contentment in her new life.

The story is exciting and gripping throughout, with plenty of plot twists and turns to keep the reader guessing right up to the final reveal. The book had me completely transfixed and I read it all the way through in a couple of days, as I was desperate to find out who murdered Lucrezia!

The Second Duchess is one of those rare books that have everything; an engaging plot, well drawn characters, luxurious locations and a thrilling final denouement. This book will delight fans of historical fiction and offers something a little different from other books of the genre.

For more crime, mystery and intrigue in renaissance Italy, try A Name in Blood by Matt Rees. We also have a review of Loupas's The Red Lily Crown.

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Buy The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas at


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