Rizzio by Denise Mina

Rizzio is the first book in the Darkland Tales series, where Scottish authors focus on a historical event and view it through a modern lens.  On March 9th 1566, Mary Queen of Scots’ private secretary, David Rizzio, is murdered in front of her, during a supper party in her private chambers. Encouraged by his father, Mary’s husband, Darnley, is one of the conspirators. Known to be frustrated by his lack of power, as he is only her consort, not king in his own right, Darnley is easily manipulated by those who stand to lose their estates and power, and wish to remove her from the throne – her only crime is to be Catholic and a woman.

Having grown up in Scotland, I knew a bit about Mary Queen of Scots, but had never come across this story before. Denise Mina’s fresh interpretation brings it to life in a way that no text book ever could; it is historical fiction viewed through the filter of a crime novelist. It is a short novella and I read it in one sitting, but it left me hungry to know more. Told from the point if view of an omniscient narrator, you do not just read this story, you feel as if you are right in the middle of the action. The characters are well drawn, easy to distinguish, and the vivid descriptions of the clothes, food and furnishings add authenticity. The facts are known, but Denise Mina’s excellent writing turns it into a tense, gripping and emotional narrative. It is a very dark tale of greed, the desire for power, and the fragile position of women in society. I really enjoyed Rizzio, and am keen to read the other volumes in this fascinating series.