Review

The Book of Unholy Mischief

by Elle Newmark

A street urchin named Luciano narrates this intriguing tale,
which is the story of his successes and failures, and how he found
shelter, food and even a job. His friends, Marco and Domingo, have
little hope for such an enviable future. Venice in the 1500s was a
mean place, full of corruption and misery. A homeless boy had to
watch himself, for there were predators around every corner and
little protection for the youthful dregs of society.

Good fortune comes to Luciano in an odd way. When the
doge’s chef Ferrero catches the lad stealing from a market
vendor, he rewards him with an offer of a position in the
doge’s kitchen. He will start as an apprentice with the hope
that he can work his way up to vegetable cook. Unable to look much
beyond filling his stomach and maybe his pockets, Luciano sees an
opportunity for food and a dry place to sleep. But the chef has
grand plans for him.

All of Venice, and Rome for that matter, is looking for a book
that is said to contain the secret of immortality. Books are a
rarity, but that should only make it easier to find. Vicious men,
including the pope and the Council of Ten, would kill to get their
hands on it. Even young Luciano would love to find it, for a
beautiful young woman has stolen his heart. If he had the book and
all the wealth it is rumored to contain, his Francesca would be
unable to resist him.

In the meantime, he has a lot to learn. First and foremost, he
must learn who to believe. Chef Ferrero has almost endless patience
with the boy, remembering a time when he, too, was young,
hopelessly in love and dangerously naïve. Luciano battles with
himself and his hungry friends, torn between the two worlds. His
conscience tells him to earn the trust the chef has in him. But
Marco and Domingo tug at his pity and spawn guilt at his own good
luck. He feels an allegiance to his street friends, for he knows
all too well the hardships they face. Yet he is pulled by a desire
to make the chef proud of him, since he realizes that he took a big
chance on a hopeless young thief.

Elle Newmark writes with the fluidity of cream, the boldness of
garlic and the astounding creativity of fresh ingredients mixed
well. It comes together with a surprising finish, lingering long
after the last page is turned. The author herself is a rare success
story, proving that tenacity in the face of impossible odds can win
out. Her lesson: Follow your dreams.

“Amazing. Even after the taste fades, the pleasure lingers
like a tickle in the brain. Delicious as sex.” The same could
be said of THE BOOK OF UNHOLY MISCHIEF. It is as hard to find a
book this well put together as it is to find a meal that satisfies
so thoroughly. Its readers will savor every mouth-watering
word.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 22, 2010

The Book of Unholy Mischief
by Elle Newmark

  • Publication Date: December 30, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atria
  • ISBN-10: 1416590544
  • ISBN-13: 9781416590545