Review: Rizzio by Denise Mina

This is a novella you won’t want to put down once you start. It’s about a couple of historic days in Edinburgh in 1566. Mary, Queen of Scots is in her castle at Holyrood and though she is beloved by her people, the kingdom is rife with religious conflicts and nobles scheming to take power. On March 9, 1566, a mob of armed men were let into the castle with two goals: kill the Queen’s private secretary in her own chambers and thereby weaken her rule.

David Rizzio is an Italian courtier who apparently walked from Nice to Edinburgh, just to advance his fortunes with the monarchy. He’s rumored to have impregnated Mary, who is in her third trimester, but actually has been sleeping with Darnley, the King. He’s smart and savvy, but neither he nor Mary sees his brutal assassination coming. Darnley does, because he planned the whole thing.

I love a historical novel that makes me want to know more, and that’s exactly what this book did. This is not a time in history I love reading about, mainly because the religious wars and feuding families make my head spin. But Mina tells this story in a really personal way; it’s not about facts, but about feelings. The characters turn on each other again and again, and only Mary herself seems uninvolved in the treachery. There is madness, manipulation, and mob violence.

A man pulls his knife free and looks panicked, but then he giggles as he steps away from the boy. He can’t believe he’s allowed to do this, that he’s getting away with this. Yair sees they’re wilding, reveling in doing something terrible with no consequences. He knows at least some of them are thinking about the martyrs of the Reformation and hoping they are like them. But they were valiant, heroic, reckless men. This is not like that. This is pathetic.

Rizzio by Denise Mina

I loved the first two books I read by Mina, The Long Drop and Conviction, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to receive her latest book to review. The Long Drop was a true crime story set in 1950’s Scotland, and like this one, it wasn’t what you’d expect from true crime. Conviction is more of a mystery-thriller about a sunken ship, a possible murder, and a true crime podcast that stirs up long-buried memories.

This book was very different from those two, but I was struck by Mina’s insightful writing and character development. She writes about true crime but really gets into people’s heads. She writes in a modern way, rather than adhering to the language of the time, which might bother some readers but it made me feel like I knew these people. I loved the drama of this book and found myself anxiously turning pages to see what would happen next.

Mina has background in nursing, law, and researched mental illness in female offenders. She brings this compelling background to the characters and stories she tells. I will definitely be reading more by this author.

Note: I received a complimentary advance review copy from publisher Pegasus Books. Its publication date is September 7, 2021.

  3 comments for “Review: Rizzio by Denise Mina

  1. September 11, 2021 at 12:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have liked what I’ve read by Mina, Conviction was a favourite

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