Authors: Matt Rees
MATT REES was born in Wales and read English at Oxford before moving to the Middle East to become a journalist. He is also the author of the
award-winning Omar Yussef series, which follows a detective in Palestine, and is now published in twenty-four countries.
Visit his website at www.mattrees.net
ALSO BY MATT REES
Mozart’s Last Aria
THE OMAR YUSSEF SERIES
The Bethlehem Murders
The Saladin Murders
The Samaritan’s Secret
The Fourth Assassin
First published in hardback and trade paperback in Great Britain in 2012 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.
Copyright © Matt Rees 2012
The moral right of Matt Rees to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.
Every effort has been made to trace or contact all copyright holders. The publishers will be pleased to make good any omissions or rectify any mistakes brought to their
attention at the earliest opportunity.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Hardback ISBN: 978 1 84887 919 5
Trade paperback ISBN: 978 1 84887 918 8
E-book ISBN: 978 0 85789 678 0
Printed in Great Britain
An imprint of Grove Atlantic Ltd
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London WC1N 3JZ
For Mari Carys, my little Madonna
In July 1610, Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, the most celebrated artist in Italy, disappeared. Though he had dangerous enemies and had been
on the run with a price on his head for several years, he was said to have died of a fever. His body was never found.
He died as badly as he had lived.
Giovanni Baglione (1566–1643), on Caravaggio in
The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects
What a good end he makes, who dies loving well.
Petrarch (1304–74), Sonnet 140
Michelangelo Merisi (called Caravaggio, after his hometown),
Maddalena ‘Lena’ Antognetti,
Cardinal, nephew of Pope Paul V
Domenica ‘Menica’ Calvi,
Marchesa of Caravaggio
Leonetto della Corbara,
Inquisitor of Malta
Knight of Malta
Francesco del Monte,
Cardinal, patron of Caravaggio
Piedmontese nobleman, Knight of Malta
Costanza’s son, Knight of Malta
Giovan Francesco Tomassoni,
Ranuccio’s elder brother
Alof de Wignacourt,
Grand Master of the Knights of Malta
The town of CARAVAGGIO,
in the Duchy of Milan
Things Thought Hidden
he boy sat in the dark.
, he thought.
Watch this man lurching upright with his hands to his
belly, retching, grimacing, sweating, kneading himself with blackened fingernails.
The sheets stank, but the boy remained on the bed. He wanted to be near the invalid whose privates and armpits
were bulbous with the scabbing sores of the plague. This was his father, who was dying.
Across the bed lay the boy’s grandfather. Each breath choked the old man, rattling his narrow chest. Perspiration shone on his grey beard. Runnels of sweat glimmered between every stark
rib in his heaving torso. Rotting plague weals brimmed out of his armpits like leeches. Bloody urine seeped into the mattress. His face quivered with shame under the sallow shaft of sun from a
crack in the shutter.
His father’s voice. Would he forget it? He knew he would remember the words: ‘Michele, why are you here?’ But would he recall the tone? A mellow bass, warped and desiccated in
the furnace of the Black Death until it sounded like the futile gurgling of a man smothered by a mouthful of sand. ‘Why?’
‘To keep you company, Papa.’ His own speech. When he was older and alone, he remembered it like the cadence of an ineluctable melody. Lost and innocent, he would hear it in his head.
Ah, but never in his throat. That voice – the one that would resonate when he opened his mouth as a grown man – that speech was stripped of all innocence.
‘Go, my boy. You’ll catch the—’ His father heaved and rolled on his side, shivering. He drew up his knees.
The air was sharp with the lime and sulphur his mother said would chase away the disease. It prickled in the boy’s nose and his lungs. It made him sneeze. His father lifted his head, a
motion quicker than any he had made since the infection had come on. The man’s features were taut with horror. A sneeze was the first symptom. The boy twitched a wavering smile to reassure
The father’s head dropped as though his son’s grin had sliced it from his shoulders. He descended again into his own tortures. The boy wondered about the sneeze too, and he reached
his thin, pale arm under the drawstring of his calico pants to feel around his groin. No lumps, no buboes. The sulphur scent returned and he realized he had been holding his breath.
His grandfather shuddered, eyes flickering upwards, white and blind. He surrendered his vision to the dimming light within his skull, so that some spirit too refined for living perception might
reveal itself to him. When the pupils descended, they were fixed and unseeing and the boy’s grandfather was still. His father’s tear ducts were dried by the vinegar with which he had
tried to wash away the pestilence; the weeping wouldn’t come. He struck his brow with his fists as though the tears were merely stubborn and might relent, like a donkey, with
The boy stayed with them for hours. His father lay beside the dead man, whispering and incoherent in his fever. That evening he complained that the bed was wet and hot, slid to the floor, stared
into the night-black. The boy stood over him.
‘You’re too young, Michele,’ he gasped. ‘Too young to see this.’
At first the boy thought he meant that a child of six shouldn’t witness his father’s parting and so he sobbed, because he already felt what it would be like to be without him. Then
he followed the direction of his squint. With eyes unsynchronized and palpitating, he knew his father was looking into the face of Death. The boy could make out nothing in the darkness. The father
opened his mouth to explain what he saw, but his jaw fell and his weight slumped against the side of the bed. The boy grappled with his father’s head, clinging to the tangled hair, so that it
shouldn’t be dashed to the floor.
The boy glanced down at the dead man, his brow ridged with pity. Something moved in the darkness and he sensed it, the sudden illumination that comes to those who make a compact with death. The
sufferer from disease or the willing sacrifice. The murderer and his victim.
Watch the darkness
, it told him.
What materializes from the shadow? What emerges when you stare at things thought hidden? Keep looking and one day you’ll see its shape. Your gaze
will make a light that penetrates the mystery.
He stroked the dead man’s head.
Isn’t that true, Papa?
In the Evil Garden
he Calling of St Matthew
‘He’s the most famous artist in Rome.’ At the end of the nave, Scipione Borghese crossed himself. His hand passed across his scarlet robes, slow and voluptuous, as if he were
stroking a lover’s breast. ‘Do you think you can keep him to yourself?’
Not now that your uncle is anointed as Pope Paul
, Cardinal del Monte thought. The appointment of the new pontiff had made Scipione the most powerful prince of the Church in Rome.
He’ll force my protégé to sign his letters ‘your humble creature’.
‘If you think it’s possible to control Caravaggio, my gracious Lord, I shall be
happy to introduce you to him so that you may attempt it. He answers to a higher power than you or I.’ He gestured to the golden crucifix glimmering on the altar in the light from the high
windows. ‘And I don’t mean the Holy Father, may he be blessed by Our Lord.’ Scipione prodded his wrist downwards, his index and little fingers extended like the horns of the
Del Monte grimaced to see such an earthy gesture formed by the manicured hand of the new arbiter of art and power in the papal city. ‘From what I hear of his behaviour, Caravaggio’s
authority comes not from above, but from below,’ Scipione said. ‘Artists are all rough sorts. I know how to bend them to my will.’
With 200,000 ducats a year bestowed upon you from the Throne of St Peter, I’m sure you’ll find a way.
Del Monte guided Scipione to the chapel in the left aisle. ‘Here
Scipione shifted his scarlet beret on the back of his head, scratched his jaw, and pulled ruminatively on the point of his goatee. His tongue ran along his upper lip. He was young and delicate,
but something in his face made it easy to foresee what he would look like when he became fat.
And this one’s certainly
to be fat
, del Monte thought
. The body can barely
contain the avarice of the man. Just give him a few years with absolute power and unlimited budget, his stomach will swell and his chins will multiply.
‘The famous pride of the Church of San Luigi of the French,’ Scipione said.
The two cardinals passed beyond the green marble balustrade into the Contarelli Chapel. ‘
St Matthew and the Angel
The Martyrdom of St Matthew
, these are wonderful of
‘Yes, but it’s this one. This is the one.’ Scipione turned to the massive canvas on the wall at the left of the altar.
The Calling of St Matthew
.’ Del Monte opened his hands wide. ‘I admit that even I, who recognized his talent before all other patrons, never expected a genius of such
virtuosity to emerge.’
‘It’s revolutionary. Everywhere such darkness.’ Scipione spread his feet and rested his hands on his stomach. He worked his jaw, rippling his cheeks, as though he were
consuming the canvas before him.