The Figaro Murders, Laura Lebow’s debut novel, is a work of historical fiction focused on the life of Lorenzo da Ponte. While he is now known for his work with W.A. Mozart on famous operas such as Le nozze di Figaro, da Ponte takes on quite a different role here. The theater poet finds himself in quite the predicament when he is forced to investigate a murder.
Set briefly before the premiere of Le nozze, da Ponte agrees to help his barber friend Vogel locate his adoptive parents. In his search, he ends up at the house of the barber’s employer, right before a murder occurs. Due to his proximity to the event and to the members of the household, he is selected to find the murderer and bring him to justice.
This murder mystery also contains many historical facts, numerous moments of intrigue, a world premiere of a famous opera, and even a sort of love story. Fans of Mozart and da Ponte’s most famous work will love the elements of Le nozze that pop up throughout the novel. Beyond that, readers will gain a wealth of knowledge about the poet’s life. Although he may not have really been involved in a murder investigation, he did head to Vienna after being exiled from Venice, wrote an opera with Mozart’s famous rival Salieri, and did indeed have problems with his teeth.
The history contained within this novel is easily the number one reason to read it. Anyone who has any interest in da Ponte’s life or in the history of Le nozze di Figaro would enjoy this book. Others may read it to build a new understanding of Le nozze di Figaro itself. Virtually every character involved in the mystery has a direct parallel to a character within Le nozze. Furthermore, each character’s storyline mirrors their operatic counterpart in some (usually darker) way. Although this is a work of fiction, it makes an interesting read from a character study standpoint.
At times, it seems that this new author became a bit overzealous with her plot ideas. She jams so many storylines into one book, it can occasionally be difficult to follow them. It also can leave the mystery aspect of the novel feeling neglected. However, in the “Finale” section of the book, the mystery really picks up again, and the reader is left with a reasonably satisfying ending.
Overall, anyone who enjoys historical fiction, operatic stories, Le nozze di Figaro, or is just looking for an entertaining book to read would be pleased with The Figaro Murders. It seems a sequel is already scheduled for the librettist’s investigative duties. At this point, it would be pretty safe to say that this reader will want to know what happens next.
You can purchase a copy of The Figaro Murders through this link.
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