Claire Donavan thought she had problems when she passed out at her first speaking engagement, but it was nothing compared to learning that someone was publishing a book on the same topic as her relatively obscure dissertation on the Spanish Conspiracy in 17th-century Venice. She has been researching the life of Alessandra Rossetti, a courtesan who wrote a letter of denunciation exposing the Spanish plot to overthrow the Venetian government. Phillips's first novel alternates between the 21st and 17th centuries, telling the stories of the two women and their independent struggles to do the right thing. Claire travels to a conference in Venice, where her competitor is speaking, and Alessandra tries to keep herself and her loved ones out of trouble as rumors of the conspiracy spread. Phillips's well-researched novel is more than a little bit thrilling to read. The alternate story lines, each including intrigue, adventure, and a touch of romance, are nicely woven together; the details are seamlessly blended. Recommended for all fiction collections.-Anna M. Nelson, Collier Cty. P.L., Naples, FL Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
When the Venetian courtesan Alessandra Rossetti wrote a letter that exposed the 1618 Spanish Conspiracy, Venice was saved. Four hundred years later in Phillips's lovingly researched half-historical, half-contemporary debut, Claire Donovan, an American graduate student, struggles to finish her dissertation on the courtesan's brave act. Claire attends a Venice conference to check out the work of British superstar historian Andrew Kent, who sees Rossetti as nothing more than the pawn of very powerful men in a diplomatic double cross: once Andrew's work is published, his ideas could derail Claire's fledgling career. Phillips, developing parallel plots, unspools Alessandra's story directly to the reader in detail denied Claire and Andrew, who overcome their initial animosity to solve the greater mystery. Academic machinations and missing manuscripts soon add complications. Further, Claire has to deal with her difficult teenage charge, Gwendolyn Fy, and with Giancarlo Baldessari, a handsome and rich admirer. Andrew has to deal with his gorgeous harridan of an Italian girlfriend-and, inevitably, his growing attraction to Claire. Such a profusion of textual plots and characters spread out over past and present recalls A.S. Byatt's Possession, but Phillips, while not aiming as high, misses her mark. Despite a nicely detailed Venice, a clear affection for the main characters and extensive period touches, Phillips's ambitious debut founders long before its predictable happy ending. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.