The Medici Mirror is a claustrophobic and creepy story about obsession and desire. Primarily set in the present day, Johnny Carter, an architect, takes on more than he realises when he begins renovation plans for an abandoned shoe factory in London. Johnny’s had a tough time of it lately, his separation from his wife has affected his work and this project is his chance to start again and prove himself. The factory has been deserted for decades, full of machinery, tools, and materials – the place looks as though the workers only just left. It’s the secret underground room complete with bed, chair and mirror that capture Johnny’s imagination though.
Well, when I say capture his imagination, I actually mean become an all-consuming obsession. There is something very wrong with that room, from its suffocating atmosphere to the troublingly dark mirror. It’s not just Johnny who’s affected, his co-worker Tara and his new girlfriend Ophelia are drawn towards it too. The mystery of the mirror and its influence need to be unravelled before it destroys them.
In between the main narrative are some wonderful historical vignettes that illuminate the provenance of the mirror. As the title indicates, the mirror was once in the hands of Catherine de Medici – a dangerous place to be. I loved these interludes, they slowly reveal her experiences and explain her bitter and dreadful actions. I could have happily read more of these sections; it seems to me that Bailey has a talent for historical fiction.
Of the two female characters in the main narrative Tara is smart, competent, and grounded, whereas Ophelia is a touch flaky. Ophelia’s motivation is unclear and I wasn’t entirely sure whether she was trustworthy. Johnny comes across as emotionally bruised and vulnerable. I liked the dynamic between the three of them.
A predilection, perhaps a fetish, for shoes and feet runs through the story. I wasn’t sure how well it worked overall as it didn’t run throughout the older narrative, which to me emphasised the distance between the mirror’s story in the sixteenth century and its subsequent history. There are also moments when the writing could be a bit tighter. I think because Johnny narrates the story I noticed him explaining things more than perhaps was needed.
These are not major issues though. I enjoyed the book and liked the creepy mirror concept as well as the different historical period settings. Just when I thought I had the plot and connections all worked out, the very last chapter made me rethink what I thought I knew. I liked this final twist; it added an extra layer of ambiguity to the tale.
There’s a cool book trailer here, which caught my imagination.
The Medici Mirror is available now in paperback. My thanks go to the author and publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.