In a remote Venice church, a dead woman named Santa Teodora lies before the altar. She has been there for centuries, ever since the Crusaders carried her mummified body away from the Holy Land, and she is as much a part of this mysterious city as the Grand Canal. Urbino Macintyre, an American expatriate who makes a living writing biographies of legendary Venetians, believes he knows every detail of Teodora's legend, but another chapter is about to be added to her myth.
Each of the sisters of the Charity of Santa Crispina chooses a different way to die. Some relax into the arms of death, eager for their eternal rewards. Some leave this world violently, screaming in pain as they take their last breaths. The convent is a severe place, its rooms spartan, its food bland. But the time has come for Carnival in Venice, and a tourist will take any room he can find.
As snow falls on Venice, turning the city into an elaborate gothic confection, Gaby Pindar fears for her life. Crippled by intense agoraphobia, she hasn't left her family home in two decades, instead dedicating herself to tending to the small collection of historical trinkets that make up the family museum. When she begins receiving death threats, she begs for help from her cousin, the Contessa da Capo-Zendrini, whose friend, Urbino Macintyre, is something of an amateur sleuth. But the search takes a gruesome turn when Gaby's sister, Olimpia, turns up dead.
Centuries ago, Venice celebrated the Day of All Souls by building a bridge of boats across the canal to the cemetery island of San Michele. As the tourist season winds down, the Contessa da Capo-Zendrini decides it's time to revive the tradition, organizing a fleet so the city can mourn once more as it did in ancient times. Her plans are upended, however, when her latest fascination, a rakish playwright named Bobo, begins receiving anonymous threats.
The Contessa da Capo-Zendrini is one of the leading lights of Venice society, but there is one house where she has long been unwelcome. Her late husband's family, the Zenos, have loathed her since the 1930s, when a gathering at her palazzo ended in tragedy. Decades later she hits on a devilish plan to make amends: inviting the Zeno clan over for a house party to make up for the one that ended in bloodshed long ago. But soon after her guests arrive, murder strikes again.
Samuel Possle is Venice's oldest expatriate, a reclusive former playboy whose hedonistic youth would make the perfect subject for a book - that is if any writer could make him talk.
Summer in Venice is brutal, and the heat is beginning to drive the people of this quiet city mad. A woman storms into the galleries at the Biennale art fair and slashes a painting with a knife. A young girl is found raped and murdered in her own bed. And a model named Flavia Brollo appears at the home of Urbino Macintyre's closest friend, the Contessa da Capo-Zendrini, to declare that she is the noblewoman's illegitimate daughter.
For two years Urbino Macintyre has been away from his beloved city, wandering the streets of Morocco in search of material for his next book. When he steps off the train and into a gondola in Venice, he knows he has come home. His first stop is to see his beloved friend, the Contessa da Capo-Zendrini, a society butterfly who has two years of gossip stored up for him. But the contessa is not her usual lively self. She is being blackmailed, and only Macintyre can help.
In the sun-blasted expanse of St. Mark's Square, hundreds of tourists form a slow-moving herd, dragging themselves forward on a tortuous sightseeing expedition. Inside the elegant Caffè Florian, the atmosphere is more refined as Urbino Macintyre shares a conversation with his beloved friend, the Contessa da Capo-Zendrini. Life in Venice is serene, and they are happier than they have ever been - until a murder shatters the peace of the caffè.