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The Rising Tide by Mark Frutkin  

Rumours of the Second Coming of Christ abound in the City of Masks. Michele Archenti, publisher, former priest, and current confidant to the mysterious skeleton-bearer Rodolpho, finds himself swept away by a rising tide of politics, ambition and lust in eighteenth-century Venice.

Venice, 1769. The City of Masks is awash with rumour. A strange man haunts the nearby island of Torcello, a skeleton strapped to his back. A wolf wearing a priest’s cassock is spotted running through the fields. A mysterious courtesan bears signs of a most unusual form of stigmata.

Michele Archenti, former priest and devil’s advocate, and current publisher of a scandalous collection of erotic poetry, becomes reluctantly embroiled in political intrigue. Called upon to defend the skeleton-bearer—his friend Rodolfo —against charges of heresy, Archenti must navigate the murky political waters as well as the less-frequented canals of Venice, and outsmart the ambitious new Inquisitor from Rome who vows not only to prosecute the heretic, but to see him burn. In the heady, uninhibited days of Carnival, the signs are ripe: the citizens of Venice prepare for the Second Coming of Christ.


2019—ForeWord Indies Book Award,


2019—City of Ottawa Book Award,

Review text

The Rising Tide builds to a farcical crescendo of complications and crises.


‘Like good Christians everywhere, the Venetians had a strain of the apocalyptic running in their veins,’ writes Mark Frutkin in his novel, The Rising Tide. In the annus horribilis 1769, Venice was poised between zenith and decline. Still an independent republic, it was the most refined city in Europe, influencing art, architecture, and literature, even as threats to its independence encroached.

In this setting, two merchants return from the island of Torcello with tales of a man bearing a skeleton on his back, and sightings of a wolf wearing a priest’s cassock. Rumors about the end of days spread as far as the Vatican. An inquisitor is dispatched, but exposing the unholy rumors at the heart of these tales reveals that passion and power are still the city’s lifeblood, and the source of humanity’s most tragicomic follies.

The Rising Tide builds to a farcical crescendo of complications and crises. Prostitution, church politics, fanatic fatalism, star—crossed lovers, virgin whores, and a running gag—at times, quite literally—involving pungent cheeses all unite with the nascent power of the printing press and the shape of love, sex, and scandal at the intersection of Europe’s secular and Catholic worlds.

Hilariously self-aware, the narrative perspective makes excellent use of expectations and incongruity. There’s a tacit admission that ‘reconstructing the past is like taking apart a large, complex clock in one room and reassembling it in another room. There will always be a few miscellaneous pieces that don’t seem to fit anywhere.’ But the slight surreality of the novel’s historical setting enables the suspension of disbelief, allowing Venice to reemerge in a light that’s comically antique. From lexical choices such as a ‘frustrum of mutton’ to illustrative etchings evocative of eighteenth—century travel guides to the faux—earnestness of the novel’s commentary, the book’s tonal dissonance runs in delicious counterpoint to the characters’ self—seriousness, and to great comic effect.

Among the central players, relationship entanglements are profuse, and revelations are encumbered by layers of conflicting motives and deception. Printer and former priest Michele Archenti, hermit Rodolfo, brothel madame Bianca Lucca, inquisitor Bruno Pissani, underground poet Arcangelo, and courtesan Francesca Verace are configured and reconfigured in labyrinthine permutations. Lovers struggle to find each other, friends are separated and reunified, and power-players lob crosses and double—crosses. Amidst it all, internal and external battles between logic, prudence, and purity versus irrationality, emotion, and instinct achieve a satirical scale.

Elizabethan in its comedy, The Rising Tide subverts expectations, turning a potential second coming on its ear. In a world where a man can go years with a skeleton strapped to his back and where prostitution is an essential sphere of public trade, anything is possible ... and likely. Characters become players on a stage, their crises cathartic. Filled with witticisms, wordplay, and an enticing blend of humor and tragedy, the novel’s ideas of apocalypse are wedded to a wry knowing that unveils the antics embedded in mechanisms of power and human machinations alike.

—Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers, Foreword Reviews

Review quote

‘Packed with the intrigue, wildness, and complexities of 18th Century Venice, The Rising Tide is a rollicking, lush book full of gorgeous description and memorable characters.’

—Open Book

Review quote

There is a cartoon-like quality to the characters and their adventures. And this is as it should be in commedia del’arte. Don’t expect any novel lessons. But do be delighted at the way the story lampoons the mores of all hypocritical authority figures, especially those in the Catholic church of the day.

—Paul Gessel, Artsfile

Review quote

‘Author Mark Frutkin keeps the reader rapt with twists and turns right up to the end, and his command of detail is impressive.’

—Timothy Niedermann, The Ottawa Review of Books

Excerpt from book

From "Strange Arrivals and Sightings"

Venice / September 1769

The grey door, runneled with cracks, creaked open onto one of the narrowest alleys in Venice, a calle barely wide enough to accommodate a folded-open folio, a slit of a passage where sunlight entered for a mere twenty minutes a day.

For nearly two years, Michele Archenti had been going in and out of the door that faced this narrow capillary of an alley. Today, he was exiting his print shop to join his friend, Arcangelo, for lunch on the nearby square. A wind, from the north he sensed by its freshness, spilled down the alley’s throat.

As he closed the door and turned, setting his tricorne on his head, he paused in the alley, thinking about those two years since he had arrived in Venice. They had passed as quickly as a comet coursing through the heavens.

* * *

Arcangelo posed a question before Michele had time to insert himself in his chair. "My friend, have you heard the rumors flitting about the city? Like a flock of nervous starlings."

"Greetings, Arco. No. What do you hear?"

In his eagerness to impart his news, Arcangelo leaned forward and waved his arms about. "They say a wolf was spotted yesterday on the isle of Torcello. That in itself is unusual enough, but this wolf was seen running across a field dressed in a cleric’s robes. A tattered priest’s cassock fluttered across his back! Can you imagine?"

"Ah. Is that so?" Michele nodded.

"And this in the same week the new Inquisitor arrives from Rome to take up his duties."


"Yes. And what’s more, there was a sighting, also on Torcello this week, of a strange man bearing a skeleton on his back. So many astonishing events all together. People are saying it’s the Second Coming, Michele. These are signs."

"What? That’s ridiculous."

"The rumors are rampant. They say Christ returns, his crucified bones still nailed to his own resurrected body to remind all Christians of His suffering and His sacrifice. Some are claiming that this is surely a warning of the end of times."

Unpublished endorsement

The Rising Tide is a delicious read overflowing with skullduggery, sorcery, scandal, and political intrigue deftly delivered with a sly comedic undertone. All things to excess might well have been the motto of Frutkin’s 18th century Venice, which includes a selection of exceedingly malodorous cheeses named after intimate bodily fluids and organs, a wolf wearing a priest’s cassock, a former priest living in a bordello, a virgin courtesan marked by a shocking version of stigmata, and a strange skeleton-bearing man who may or may not be Christ Almighty Again.’

—Diane Schoemperlen, author of Forms of Devotion and Red Plaid Shirt


Credit: Vincenzo Pietropaolo

Mark Frutkin is the author of over a dozen books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. His works include the Trillium Book Award–winning Fabrizio’s Return (Vintage, 2006), which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book, and Atmospheres Apollinaire (The Porcupine’s Quill, 1988), which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium and the Ottawa Book Award. His latest book, Where Angels Come to Earth (Longbridge Books, 2020), presents a visual and poetic appreciation of Italian culture. He lives in Ottawa.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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FICTION / Literary

FICTION / Historical

ISBN-13: 9780889844148

Publication Date: 2018-04-30

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 224

Price: $22.95