Sandra Danby asked various people about their ‘comfort reads’ – which books do they always go back to? Here is my response.
My ‘Porridge & Cream’ novels are in the House of Níccolò series by the late Scots author Dorothy Dunnett. I became hooked on her sixteenth century Game of Kings series featuring the exquisite Francis Crawford of Lymond in the 1970s. Then in the 1980s, Dunnett began the fifteenth century House of Níccolò series about a flawed Flemish apprentice Claes, who becomes a Venetian banker with his own mercenary army; who’s successful in everything but with his family and the one woman he loves. The gifted, but not good-looking Claes/Níccolò, travels the world, seeking answers and finding trouble.
The first book is Níccolò Rising, which I read while living in Italy and studying part-time in a Medici building. Later, we moved to Holland, and I was able to visit Bruges then other locations in the European novels. I was intrigued by the sophistication of the financial manoeuvring behind the Medici banking network, and disturbed by how Níccolò’s life is shaped by a father and grandfather, who refuse to accept him. The stories essentially chart how Níccolò seeks his legitimacy while desperately trying to find his own son. In the process he becomes involved in manipulating the international politics of Christendom and beyond.
I pick up one of these books every year or so. This month it was Race of Scorpions, about the would-be King of Cyprus and the start of the sugar industry. Why? Because aspects of the story relate to research for my next Ludo da Portovenere novel (although this is C17th) but mostly because I was stressed by deadlines for other work and I needed a comfort read. What stays in my memory are the settings. I like separating the narrative layers, as well; trying to work out what Níccolò is up to. What pulls me back most, though, is the quality of Dunnett’s writing. And yes – as an author, I am very influenced by Dunnett’s plots, characters and prose.
Written for Sandra Danby’s blog, August, 2015