Book review: Sent to the devil

Sent to the devil

sent to the devil

Laura Lebow
Minotaur Books

US Release date:
April 5, 2016
also available as ebook
Historical Mystery


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Have you ever done the list of detectives and their official jobs? Have you thought of including librettist? This is indeed the second book in a series of historical mysteries with Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838), Mozart’s librettist and court poet. I enjoyed a lot The Figaro Murders, so I really had to read Sent to the devil, focused this time on Don Giovanni. I enjoyed it even more! Keep reading to know why.

The book takes place during April-May 1788. It opens with the death of a general, summoned by night by a mysterious correspondent. And then it’s the turn of one of Lorenzo’s old friends. Despite his less than pleasant experience with the police in book 1, he accepts to help find who did it, to avenge his friend. But the dead bodies multiply, apparently all the fact of the same killer who summons his victims with verses from The Divine Comedy, on a mysterious watermarked paper, and engraves their forehead with an obscure sign. And then, Lorenzo himself receives coded messages, followed later on also by a Dante quote…

I can’t tell you more about the plot. But trust me, it’s fabulous, with plenty of red-herrings, many possible leads, and great suspense scenes.

I found the character of Lorenzo even more developed than in book one. We see him at work, just a few weeks before the first representation of Don Giovanni. The life of a librettist is not all peaceful either, if he tries to please the requests of every singer…
Plus, all along the book, there looms the possibility that the theater will be closed, which would put him into unemployment: alongside Russia, Vienna is at war with the Turks. If it lasts too long, all the money will be needed for the army. The theater funds would be cut.
We also see Lorenzo’s vast connection of friends, including Giovanni Casanova! Da Ponte was born in Venice, but he lives as a refugee in Vienna because of some previous acts in Italy.  All these elements are inspired by what we know of him (see the author’s excellent note at the end of the book). And Lorenzo is also involved in a bit of a romance

Not all are in favor of that war, far from it. There are many vocal protesters, at the heart of the plot. Some also criticize the emperor’s social reforms, inspired by French philosophers. It’s an effervescent period, with lots of new ideas floating round.

That’s about the historical and social ambiance, so well evoked throughout the novel.
There are also great descriptions of Vienna, its palaces and cathedral.

And of course, there are a lot of things about the world of Mozart (his family as well), operas (including variations in Don Giovanni that we usually no longer include in modern representations of it!), singers and rehearsals.

I found totally delightful and so smartly the connections between Don Giovanni‘s story, the plot of the mystery, and Dante’s quotations.
Incidentally, having just finished reading the seven books of In Search of Lost Time by Proust, my next big reading adventure is Dante’s Divine Comedy (bilingual edition with tons of notes), so imagine my delight when I discovered it was so often quoted!
It is also a brilliant way of joining together Da Ponte’s Italian background with his job for Mozart.


Avez-vous déjà pensé qu’un librettiste italien puisse être détective ? Eh bien oui, c’est le cas de Lorenzo Da Ponte, dans cette excellente série de romans policiers historiques centrées sur le monde de l’opéra. Un peu de Don Giovanni, des citations de Dante, et vous avez là de quoi vous régaler. Surtout que le personnage central est très bien développé et la présentation socio-historique du contexte excellente. je vous le recommande vivement !

VERDICT: Focused on Don Giovanni, the world of operas and Dante’s Divine Comedy, superb historical mystery at the heart of Vienna. Well written, with true to life characters, and an irresistible suspense. A must for all lovers of history and mystery.


In 1788 Vienna, Court Poet Lorenzo Da Ponte is putting some finishing touches on the libretto for the premiere of his new opera with Mozart, Don Giovanni. A huge success when it debuted in Prague, the Emperor has decreed that it shall be performed in Vienna. But Joseph II is off prosecuting a less-than-popular war against the Turks, and the city itself is in a bit of turmoil. There are voices protesting the war, others who see Turks around every corner.

Da Ponte, however, just wants to do his work and enjoy life. Alas, these simple desires aren’t to be easily fulfilled. First, he’s been getting a series of mysterious coded notes from unknown hands, notes that make no sense to him. Then his old friend Alois, a retired priest and academic, is viciously murdered and strange symbols carved into his forehead. Summoned to the police bureau, Da Ponte learns that Alois’s murder was not the first. Determined to help find his friend’s killer, Da Ponte agrees to help with the secret investigation.

Caught in a crossfire of intrigue both in the world of opera and politics, Da Ponte must find the answer to a riddle and expose a killer before he becomes the next victim.


Laura Lebow


Laura Lebow
studied European history
at Brandeis University
and earned a Master
in City Planning from MIT.
After a career as an environmental policy analyst,
she now writes historical mysteries full-time. |
She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts
with her husband and an ever-expanding collection of opera CDs.

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Do you know of any other mystery related to operas?

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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book for free from Minotaur Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.

This book counted for the following Reading Challenges

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11 thoughts on “Book review: Sent to the devil

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  6. I came here from Charlotte Hoather’s blog and found this a really interesting review. I haven;t read any of Lebow’s books but she sounds right up my alley. (Also love Don Giovanni) Thanks!


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