Toby O’Dare, previously known as Lucky the Fox, committed innumerable crimes during the decade he served as a government assassin. Sick of that life, he has resolved to walk a path of reparation, to make up in his remaining years for all the evil he unleashed before. The Seraphim Malchiah guides him on this redemptive journey, assigning him to answer the prayers of the pious. In this instance, Toby is plunged into the Rome of the fifteenth century, called upon to solve a case of poisoning that occurs at the exact moment a dybbuk begins to haunt a palazzo.
Anne Rice, well known for her many bestselling books, bases the story on an actual incidence of mutilation during the years of the Inquisition. While this story is delicately told, the plot in Rome is secondary to the beginning and concluding sections of the novel. Rice is more concerned with the development of Toby’s soul than with the mysteries he solves. There are several delicious passages of ‘angel time’ during which Toby merges with celestial light and harmony, going beyond words and language and human understanding. After these intoxicating, regenerative dreams, Toby wakes in the all-too-real present, in which his past continually stalks him.
Of Love and Evil is clearly a slice of a larger narrative; the final pages set up the next adventure. While the effect is somewhat disjointed, Rice’s lyricism raises this tender story far above most other novels of this type.
Of Love and Evil: The Songs of the Seraphim, Anne Rice, Random House Australia
Review first published in The Courier-Mail in November 2010.