My favorite books of historical fiction and mysteries set in Italy

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always had a strong, long-lived interest in all things Italian (including Italian food and wine). I spent my third year of university at a campus in Rome and travelled all over Italy during my year there. I’ve been back to Italy as a tourist and researcher numerous times, as five of my ten award-winning novels are set there (in Venice, Rome, Cremona, etc.). I have many Italian friends and my most recent novel, The Artist and the Assassin, is being translated into Italian and will be published by Les Flaneurs Edizioni, an Italian publisher in Bari, Italy. 


I wrote...

The Artist and the Assassin

By Mark Frutkin,

Book cover of The Artist and the Assassin

What is my book about?

The Artist and the Assassin is historical fiction based on the fascinating life of the famous Italian painter Caravaggio, who lived and worked in Rome around 1600. The personality of Caravaggio embodied his artistic technique called ‘chiaroscuro,’ which used deep, deep blacks to bring out the brilliance of light. He was both a marvelous creative artist and an extremely difficult man, quick to anger and with a love for sword-fighting on the streets of Rome. The novel ends up as something of a thriller as the assassin in the story tries to chase down and kill Caravaggio.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Death at La Fenice

Mark Frutkin Why did I love this book?

I recommend this book because Donna Leon takes us inside the fascinating world of Venice. Her fictional detective, Guido Brunetti, is not only brilliant at solving crime (in her many Venetian novels) but has a delightful family (wife and two teenage children). La Fenice is the famous opera house of Venice, so we get to go backstage there as well as backstage in the city of Venice.

By Donna Leon,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Death at La Fenice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A splendid series . . . with a backdrop of the city so vivid you can almost smell it.' The Sunday Telegraph

Winner of the Suntory Mystery Fiction Grand Prize
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The twisted maze of Venice's canals has always been shrouded in mystery. Even the celebrated opera house, La Fenice, has seen its share of death ... but none so horrific and violent as that of world-famous conductor, Maestro Helmut Wellauer, who was poisoned during a performance of La Traviata. Even Commissario of Police, Guido Brunetti, used to the labyrinthine corruptions of the city, is shocked at the number of…


Book cover of The Monster of Florence

Mark Frutkin Why did I love this book?

The Monster of Florence is set in the famous Italian city of Florence (Firenze), as are all of Magdalen Nabb’s mysteries. She gives us fascinating insights into life in Florence, through the eyes of her detective, Marshall Guarnaccia. The Marshall is a very down-to-earth and believable character and does his best at trying to catch a serial killer on the loose in that part of Italy. The author takes the reader right inside life in Florence with a work that is entirely engaging and well-written.

By Magdalen Nabb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Monster of Florence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on a chilling true crime, The Monster of Florence follows the reopening of a cold case—a serial killer who targeted unmarried couples and terrorized Florence for two decades.

Marshal Guarnaccia's job with the carabinieri—the local Florentine police—usually involves restoring stolen handbags to grateful old ladies and lost cameras to bewildered tourists. So when he is assigned to work with the police in trying to track down a vicious serial killer, he feels out of his league. To make matters worse, the Proc he must report to is Simonetti, the same man he knows drove an innocent man to suicide…


Book cover of Earthly Remains

Mark Frutkin Why did I love this book?

Another in Donna Leon’s series set in Venice with a focus on Commissario Guido Brunetti, a totally believable detective with all the skills any good detective would need to have while meeting up against all the difficulties any detective would encounter in a society (Italy) where the nature of bureaucracy is extremely problematic. So problematic that Brunetti is forced to take a break on a nearby island where he runs into other crimes and difficulties.

By Donna Leon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Earthly Remains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'When she's writing about her beloved Venice, Donna Leon can do no wrong. And Earthly Remains, her new mystery featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, is one of her best. It's also one of her saddest, dealing as it does with the seemingly unstoppable polluting of the great lagoon . . . Leon dares to try, once again earning the gratitude of her devoted readers.' New York Times

A New York Times Bestseller
A New York Times Top Ten Crime Novel of 2017
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
An Amazon Best Book of the Month (Mystery)
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Granted leave…


Book cover of The Decameron

Mark Frutkin Why did I love this book?

The Decameron is an absolute classic of world literature. This 14th-century Italian work remains entirely readable and accessible. The main story: seven young women and three young men living in Florence have decided to try to escape the ravages of the plague, the Black Death, that has hit the city. They decide to flee to a villa in the country. Once there, they agree to pass the time by each of them telling one story each day for ten days. These one hundred short tales of love are extraordinarily entertaining, exciting, bawdy and full of life. A real classic for a good reason. 

By Giovanni Boccaccio,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Decameron as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1348, as the Black Death ravages their city, ten young Florentines take refuge in the countryside...

Taken from the Greek, meaning 'ten-day event', Boccaccio's Decameron sees his characters amuse themselves by each telling a story a day, for the ten days of their confinement - a hundred stories of love and adventure, life and death, and surprising twists of fate. Less preoccupied with abstract concepts of morality or religion than earthly values, the tales range from the bawdy Peronella, hiding her lover in a tub, to Ser Cepperallo, who, despite his unholy effrontery, becomes a Saint.…


Book cover of The Lion of Venice

Mark Frutkin Why did I love this book?

I recommend this non-fiction book because it is a fascinating study of the famous bronze statue of a lion that stands at the top of a column in the heart of Venice and is actually a symbol of the city. The book so intrigued me that I decided to write a novel in which the lion statue was an important, somewhat magical character. That novel was also titled The Lion of Venice and it focused on the life and travels of Marco Polo, likely the most famous Venetian in history.

By Bianca Maria Scarfi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lion of Venice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by


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God on a Budget: and other stories in dialogue

By J.M. Unrue,

Book cover of God on a Budget: and other stories in dialogue

J.M. Unrue Author Of The Festival of Sin: and other tales of fantasy

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an old guy. I say this with a bit of cheek and a certain amount of incongruity. All the books on my list are old. That’s one area of continuity. Another, and I’ll probably stop at two, is that they all deal with ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances—those curveballs of life we flail at with an unfamiliar bat; the getting stuck on the Interstate behind a semi and some geezer in a golf cap hogging the passing lane in a Buick Le Sabre. No one makes it through this life unscathed. How we cope does more to define us than a thousand smiles when things are rosy. Thus endeth the lesson.

J.M.'s book list on showing that somebody has it worse than you do

What is my book about?

Nine Stories Told Completely in Dialogue is a unique collection of narratives, each unfolding entirely through conversations between its characters. The book opens with "God on a Budget," a tale of a man's surreal nighttime visitation that offers a blend of the mundane and the mystical. In "Doctor in the House," readers are plunged into the emotionally charged moment when an oncologist delivers a life-altering diagnosis to a patient. The collection then shifts to "Prisoner 8086," a story about the unlikely friendship that blossoms between a prison volunteer and a habitual offender, exploring themes of redemption and human connection.

The heart of the book continues with "The Reunion," a touching narrative about high school sweethearts reuniting, stirring up poignant memories and unspoken feelings. "The Therapy Session" adds a lighter touch, presenting a serio-comic exchange between a therapist and a challenging patient. In "The Fishing Trip," a father imparts crucial life lessons to his daughter during an eventful outing, leading to unexpected consequences. "Mortality" offers a deeply personal moment as a mother shares a cherished, secret story from her past with her son.

The collection then takes a romantic turn in "The Singles Cruise," where two individuals find connection amidst shared stories on a cruise for singles. Finally, "Jesus and Buddha in the Garden of Eden" provides a satirical, thought-provoking encounter in the afterlife between two spiritual figures. The book concludes with "The Breakup," a nuanced portrayal of a young couple's separation, told from both perspectives, encapsulating the complexities of relationships and the human experience.

God on a Budget: and other stories in dialogue

By J.M. Unrue,

What is this book about?

Nine Stories Told Completely in Dialogue is a unique collection of narratives, each unfolding entirely through conversations between its characters. The book opens with "God on a Budget," a tale of a man's surreal nighttime visitation that offers a blend of the mundane and the mystical. In "Doctor in the House," readers are plunged into the emotionally charged moment when an oncologist delivers a life-altering diagnosis to a patient. The collection then shifts to "Prisoner 8086," a story about the unlikely friendship that blossoms between a prison volunteer and a habitual offender, exploring themes of redemption and human connection.

The…


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