Tom, who was an American participant in the 1968 student uprisings in Paris, considers the group of young people he has brought together as his disciples. During a discussion session at a cafe one rainy Paris evening, the group decides to test their knowledge of one another by attending the Venice Carnival, each dressed as “his own, most private concept of his inner self.” On the day of the game, one of them, the Medusa, is murdered by another member of the group.
VENETIAN MASK begins with a description of the pre-Lenten Carnival in the eighteenth century: “Black domino cloaks, tricorn hats, and white masks concealed the unalterable: sex, age, station.... All were equal in anonymity. Recognition of reality was betrayal.” The passage indicates the themes of this unusual mystery set in the twentieth century. Few of the characters face reality about themselves; the first to see himself objectively is murdered because of the perceived betrayal expressed in his choice of costume.
More is concealed in VENETIAN MASK than simply faces; Friedman keeps the identity and motives of the sleuth as well as those of the murderer secret. A few problems with characterization, however, hide more than they ought: One never understands, for example, why the wife of the murdered man is so passive, and the hints of one character’s violent past are never explained -- they seem to serve only as a red herring. Still, this entertaining story carries the reader along, and the setting--a wet, cold Venice thronged with costumed celebrants--helps add an extra chill to the proceedings.