Mission Taylor & Rose. Villains in Venice by Katherine Woodfine

Taylor and Rose Secret Agents Katherine Woodfine

In case you missed my mission statement post, I’m undertaking a reading marathon to enjoy all four mysteries in the Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series leading up to the blog tour celebrating the publication of the finale Nightfall in New York!

Read my previous Missions for Peril in Paris and Spies in St. Petersburg here!

Mission Report incoming…. (some spoilers unavoidable)

Taylor & Rose Villains in Venice Katherine Woodfine
Cover by the amazing Karl J Mountford

It is now February 1912, three months since the police brought Joe’s bloodstained cap back to Sinclairs. 

Lil has lost herself and trudges up and down Fleet Street each day desperate for clues, refusing to believe he is dead.

Sophie is struggling without her heart and right hand woman Lil, and Taylor & Rose are in trouble too as all members of staff are distracted and grieving. 

Sophie feels even worse when The Chief summons her to the SSB to tell her Taylor & Rose are no longer required for the foreseeable future and he recommends she and Lil take a nice holiday.

And yet… that night she meets The Chief and Carruthers in a secret Soho location to update on their hunt for the double agent which shall take them to Venice, if only Lil cared.

Taylor & Rose Villains in Venice Katherine Woodfine
Extract from my Mission casebook

My Initial thoughts a few chapters in are rather intrigued. 

This was the historical place and timeframe that I have the least knowledge about as my Venetian history is largely limited to the Renaissance period. However I do know from that and subsequent Italian history that Venice holds a unique place in Italian history; situated in the North close to Balkan, Germanic, French as well as Southern Italian influences and it has always been a more diverse and liberal place than say Rome and the heart of European Cultural revolutions. 

In general history Italy is currently at war with The Ottoman Empire and I wondered if that would come into play due to its crucial role in the development of aerial Warcraft which has been a theme throughout and the first civilian bombing by plane happens in March by the Italians.

I also wondered why Katherine had not set it during Venice Biennale which is an art festival held every two years in the summer months and indeed took place in the summer of 1912 with an increased British presence that year- I was envisioning a daring art heist along the lines of The Thomas Crown Affair amidst the canals of Venice but there must be some other overarching reasons to set it in Venice during February 1912. 

Plot wise. Poor Carruthers I hope he gets to do more than just filing in this book after proving himself in St Petersburg, I know I’m a hypocrite but feeling rather fondly of Carruthers now, but please be good, I’m hoping his interest in knowing the code is just based on not being left out. 

And speaking of suspicions cast, just as Katherine seeded us to be untrusting of Carruthers, are we being led to think Brooks is the double agent? I’m only suspicious because whilst I think he is a total doorknob that doesn’t make him a traitor, and the conviction and effort he put into Sophie’s firearms training stands out as an anomaly for me if he is truly Fraternitas. I mean if we are saying people are Fraternitas just because they are doorknobs that would certainly include Forsyth too who is definitely a massive doorknob and dodgy in my book. 

The original code is written in French. Is there something ‘lost in translation’? The imagery and code theme is making me think of Da Vinci Code/Angels and Demons so maybe the clues are pointing to a physical place in Venice? Statues or something? Or an X marks the spot like in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I think Leo is going to play a key role in my bones! Otherwise why not simply travel with Jack or again with Tilly?

Having completed my read and made notes as I go along there are several points I want to cover but first Oh MY Faery Godmothers that ending!!!!!

Atmosphere

As I’ve already established in my reports on both Peril in Paris and Spies in St Petersburg Katherine is a master of evoking time and space.

Ok 20th century Venetian history is not my forte, but even if events of historical significance are not evoked in Villains in Venice, it doesn’t detract for the genre marvellous work in evoking time and place.

Particularly in Villains in Venice, Katherine reflects the ebb and flow, the change and continuity of between Sophie’s mothers travels in the 1880s, our adventure in 1912 and indeed if we were to visit Venice in February of the present day. 

The architectural beauty of Venice is lovingly rendered along with a full sensory immersion in our settings from the fumes of London to the pasticherre of Venice. 

Taylor & Rose Villains in Venice Katherine Woodfine
Extract from my Mission casebook

Courage and change

Much of the novel reflects on how much has changed in the course of both the Sinclair and Taylor & Rose mysteries, a true pausing point in this ‘coming of age’ arc. 

We see how Sophie and Lily themselves separately reflect and marvel on their transformations from teenage girls to experienced detectives and spies trusted with national secrets; from conjugating French verbs for a school mistress to using it to decode 400 hundred year old mystery. 

Let us help…we are part of the Loyal Order of Lions too aren’t we?… So let us do our part

Jack to Sophie

Furthermore we see how the girls have changed in how far they are prepared to go to stop Fraternitas, from accidentally stumbling into conspiracy to making the decision to possibly take a life. The change within both these girls is enormous and Katherine does well to make the reader pause on this magnitude.

Much of that change also took much courage, to stand up for what is right and to take part and this is reflected further in the plot as others that have been bit-players until now take steps to be more involved and stepping up to their oaths as Lions from Jack and Leo walking into the danger of the Carnevale party to Billy and Mei finally being recognised as more than just office staff and the assets they really are by taking the plunge and Mei’s fearless negotiation technique.

Pride comes before a fall 

(Clear Spoilers in this section) 

Pride and hubris are all over this novel as one character after another are hoist by their own petard, including The Chief. 

The most major of all is whether we fall victim to Katherine’s skill at playing her cards in the plot. Katherine weaves a clever web as soon as we meet Mrs Knight, immediately written off as a pompous, snooty old bore and yet she hands us the glistening jewel if we bother to listen… as indeed our players failed to do so. And yet Mrs Knight herself is a victim of pride, so gleeful in recognising Mrs Davenport and her desire to socially ‘outdo’ her fellow guests by using the connection to secure an invitation to the exclusive party ultimately leads to her downfall. 

I’m an old fool

The Chief

Sophie’s pride prevents her from simply embracing Lil and accepting her inability to cope with the grief. Because of her own experiences coping with loss she expects others to buck up and soldier on just as she has, forgetting both how different people are and her own grief journey and more so how Lil was unwaveringly there for her as soon as they met. It also leads her into danger as she so is proud of her skills  and experiences as an undercover spy she doesn’t read the writing on the wall when even Paolo recognises her ‘in disguise’ after one meeting and unwittingly doesn’t realise how easy it was to gain entry to the Palazzo and find the Black Dragon until it is almost too late. And even after that, her pride makes her naive that she has effectively shaken her tails. 

Unexpectedly she felt a sudden prickle of regret that they weren’t hunting for [the last dragon painting] together

Lil reflects when talking to Roberta Russell

Lil’s stubborn pride in her grief in turn alienates those who love and support her and isolates her into a routine of self doubt and a spiral of anxious depression and to make mistakes. She in contrast to Sophie has lost her confidence in her abilities, whether it be to dress for the occasion feeling like a preening peacock next to the business-like Russell or that she can command a situation to her benefit as it is Mei’s quick thinking that gets Lil in the door at The Daily Picture not Lil’s machinations. Furthermore her pride leads her to hasty decisions like letting Taylor & Rose be splashed all over the newspapers and rushing to the SSB with the conviction she has caught the double agent a decision that ultimately puts her best friend in the most lethal danger 

And speaking of that, Forsyth’s bombastic pride has been the biggest giveaway throughout and ultimately his misogynistic disrespect for Sophie and Lil as agents is his downfall. Furthermore he couldn’t believe the weapon would be something as simple as an almanac, he obviously expected something grander than a book which gave Sophie the room and time to process what was going on. 

Deception 

Whilst deception is essentially the game in espionage, it is at a fever pitch in Villains in Venice, the art and act of concealing deep truths is a major theme and reoccurrence thoughout the novel. From the nature of Carnevale with its masks, disguises and hedonistic origins and Mrs Davenport’s party being both a cover for a Grand Meeting of the Dragons and to draw out Lion backed British Intelligence to complete the code and thus reveal the location of the weapon the essential heart of the action is deception. 

Deception and subterfuge reign across Villains in Venice; ‘innocent’ gifts, gaining entry to the Palazzo, Mrs Davenport’s true identity, the grand scheme of encouraging ‘spy fever’ so much more and makes us doubt everything and almost everyone within the plot. 

It is possible that for all our efforts to hoodwink them, Fraternitas will still be watching

The Chief to Sophie and Carruthers

Indeed I am back on the collywobbles about Carruthers as he deceived the girls by going back for the almanac that had been cast to the rising waters AND he allows Forsyth the opportunity to escape by refusing to split the party and leaving the injured Forsyth alone on the isle where the Black Dragon is making her way. Naughty or naive? Patriot or Pretender? As Forsyth himself says ‘But there are two boats!’

And more so is the promise of Joe a ruse or a truth? Why wouldn’t they have wheeled him out before? ‘Give us the code book, paintings and spyglass in return for Joe’- after all if they wouldn’t trade that for Joe why would they the almanac? 

Taylor & Rose Villains in Venice Katherine Woodfine
Extract from my Mission casebook

Cinematic Influences

More so than in previous novels this has the most clear and resonating cinematic (and literary) influences or references but that’s something that particularly tickles and pleases me!!

From minor references like the importance of an almanac (Back to the Future part II) to Da Vinci Code-like hidden painting clues to more deeply embroidered ideas Villains in Venice is rich with a cultural inheritance of thrillers. 

National Treasure- well this franchise has been resonant throughout especially with the spyglass and hidden messages in the painting readable only with the glass. but more so it comes to the fore with the map leading us across a city with clues to solve and the battle to escape a foe against rising water. 

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade– this is the most dominant (and personally enthralling!) influence for me not just from the setting in Venice and a scene following decoded clues into an underground mausoleum with rising tide waters. Furthermore the deception and betrayal of Walter Donavan and Elsa, whom both are also fallen by pride.  There’s much more from the power and symbology within the almanac, the absolute importance that it does not fall into the wrong hands and going into the lion’s dragon’s den itself to guarantee the path to find the weapon, indeed itself an item with such potential and power yet looks utterly mundane, like a clay grail.

Eyes Wide Shut– Ok ok bear with, bear with. This is a much more loose reference but the dissatisfaction contrasted with decadence, the masks and secret ceremonies, secret societies, hedonistic party in grand setting and the idea of an outsider infiltrating to the very heart of the danger, and the twist of it being known reminds me a lot of the themes within Kubrick’s film- though of course, a PG version!!!!  

Looking forward

(WARNING! minor spoilers if you haven’t read it!!) 

  • JOE!!!!  Again!!!! Is he alive or is it a ruse? What benefit would it have been to go to the bother of keeping him captive and alive really and why wasn’t he reeled out as a bargaining chip before?
  • Norton has got to be the Gold Dragon surely? Or at very least Silver!! He has been involved in or present at all key events- the Grand Tour, insisted his journalists leave the Circus early AND was going to Italy.  Plus Forsyth says about the lady working for ‘the top man’
  • I’m suspicious too of the Prime Minister. Why? Because the real Prime Minister in 1912 was Asquith not Arthur Lockwood. The fictionality of the man suggests to me that Katherine is about to play with this person where she wouldn’t the historical person. 
  • And the biggest, now I know why it’s set in the lead up to 20th February (Shrove Tuesday) 1912. They are going to have to go to the Black Dragon in New York whatever happens and there’s a certain notorious whacking great big boat headed that way in April!!  

Have you read Villains in Venice?

Are you joining in on Mission Taylor & Rose?

4 thoughts on “Mission Taylor & Rose. Villains in Venice by Katherine Woodfine

    1. Oh you are so very kind 💜💜 this has been a joy to unpack- works very well to both focus the busy side & ignite my analytical mind so it’s lovely to hear that people appreciate it 💜

      Liked by 1 person

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