Skip to main content

Murder at Midnight

Review

Murder at Midnight

by Avi

Ten-year-old Fabrizio is an orphan, entirely dependent on the goodwill of people like Mistress Sophia and her husband, Mangus the Magician. For the past month, Fabrizio has been doing his best to make himself indispensable to his new master, hoping against hope that Mangus will show him the secrets behind his most mind-boggling feats of magic.

Mangus, however, sees little value in Fabrizio’s earnest but sometimes irritating enthusiasm, and he hopes that his young charge will redirect his zeal toward learning something useful --- like reading --- instead of magic tricks. For even though Mangus earns his livelihood by staging magic shows in the town of Pergamontio, the magician holds little stock in the supernatural, preferring to put his faith in reason instead: “Here is Plato. Aristotle. Petrarch. Boccacio. The sublime Dante sits before you,” says Mangus to his young servant as they sit in the magician’s library. “Fabrizio, these are the world’s true magicians. Learn to read them and all mysteries shall be revealed.”

Little does Fabrizio know that his powers of reason --- and his newly forged skills at reading --- will be put to the test just a few minutes later, when Mangus is accused of treason by Pergamontio’s chief prosecutor. It turns out that a mysterious someone, maybe someone in league with the devil, has been plastering the walls of the city with messages maligning King Claudio and calling for a change. The spooky part? Every single broadsheet seems to be written in the same, imperfect hand, something that seems impossible without the aid of magic. Mangus is well known for being able to make many copies of something out of nothing. Could he have used sorcery to conjure up these treasonous sayings?

Soon Fabrizio finds himself caught up in a web of court intrigue, superstition and suspicion. Who could want to overthrow the king? His own son, the equally superstitious Prince Cosimo? Or the prince’s rival, Count Scarazoni, who values rationality over magic? Fabrizio must summon his own powers of reason and his understanding of illusion, as well as the help of a new friend (and a key piece of technology), to get to the bottom of the mystery and help save Mangus’s life --- and his own future.

MURDER AT MIDNIGHT marks award-winning author Avi’s 70th published book. It’s a prequel of sorts to 1999’s MIDNIGHT MAGIC, which starred a 12-year-old Fabrizio and many of the same supporting characters. But MURDER AT MIDNIGHT can certainly be enjoyed on its own terms, as both a terrifically suspenseful, complicated mystery and an exploration of philosophical issues at the heart of medieval culture. Avi skillfully manages to incorporate the conflicts between rational, Renaissance philosophy and medieval superstition, between enlightenment and misunderstanding, between education and ignorance, into the very plot of the mystery. Like Fabrizio himself, readers will enjoy challenging themselves to see if their own powers of reason can stand up to illusion, intrigue and murder.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 1, 2009

Murder at Midnight
by Avi