"1613. The Republic of Venice has already reached its zenith as a sea-power controlling trade in the eastern Mediterranean. In addition to its commercial pre-eminence La Serenissima (The Most Serene Republic) was an important center of art and music, renowned for architectural landmarks such as St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s palace, the architect Palladio’s churches and palaces lining The Grand Canal, home of great artists like Titian and Tintoretto and the father of Italian opera, Monteverdi.
Set in the twilight of Venice’s Golden Age, “Thirst” opens with preparations for the wedding of Caterina Zanchi and Lorenzo Contarini, an ostensibly happy event uniting two of Venice’s most powerful families. But a sinister undercurrent of deception, violence, and depravity runs beneath the glittering surface, polluting the culture like sewerage emptying into the beautiful and placid Lagoon. That subliminal corruption, hidden beneath a façade of propriety by a society bound by honor and a code of silence, will surface with tragic results.
Returning to Venice following a long voyage, Captain Lorenzo witnesses an act of violence, the drowning of a newborn and its mother in the Lagoon. Moreover, he recognizes the woman as someone close to him and the shocking deed appears to involve representatives of both Church and State. That chance observation leads to an accusation that violates a Code of Silence (omertà) upon which the order and stability of the Honor culture depends. We all sin, and we all have our secrets; the crimes committed to cover those sins in the name of Honor are worse than the sins themselves. Once the authorities are involved, order and the appearance of virtue must be restored—at any cost.
Quid est veritas? What is truth? Appearances are deceiving, and only God sees things as they really are. Moreover, people tend to believe facts that conform to the reality they wish to believe, and ignore facts to the contrary. Paolo Sarpi, an historical figure who makes a brief appearance in “Thirst”, alludes to the limits of human knowledge and perception. This epistemological problem brought to mind Machiavelli’s observation in The Prince: “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.”
Mary Donnarumma Sharnick has written a gripping narrative that follows the trail of numerous interconnected misdeeds—lies, betrayals, rapes, murders and cover-ups—as they snake through Venice like the intricate network of canals around which the city is built. The characters are three-dimensional and believable, the imagery powerful, the prose polished, the dramatic structure skilful and compelling. Even at the point where the tragic denouement seemed inevitable, the strength of the narrative held my interest. Throughout, I questioned what the title alluded to: Is it a thirst for truth, justice, honor, revenge—or perhaps love? Regardless, I was left with the feeling that this “thirst” might be unquenchable, at least if one solely relies upon material means of refreshment.
“Thirst” is an outstanding historical novel that appeals to the reader at many levels—as a meticulously researched period mystery, a thriller, a romance, and above all, as a psychologically complex novel of ideas and a work of considerable literary merit. Highly recommended."
"The commencement of the story in the Venetian lagoon is sudden and the pace thereafter bewilderingly fast. Venice is caught up in a family secret that threatens to destroy people who are in high position. They in turn fight back and are ready to betray even those closest to them with the help of the dreaded Inquisition. Mary Sharnick is an author who knows the city and the period very well so she is a convincing writer for this fascinating story of betrayal, ambition and cruelty that leads inexorably to a frightening conclusion.
The ultimate victims, those who betrayed, are accused and convicted in a manner that is terrifying. Mary takes the reader and gives them no respite until the very end of the book when suddenly one realizes that it is time to breathe again."
Author of ASSASSINS OF ALAMUT: A Novel of Persia and Palestine in the Time of the Crusades