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Lapo Mosca

Lapo Mosca is the fictional main character of a series of detective novels written by Hélène Nothenius, a Dutch novelist and historian. Professionally, Nolthenius specialized in the history of Italian music during the renaissance, and her character Lapo Mosca was a travelling musician before he became a Franciscan monk. Even as a monk, Lapo continues to entertain the crowd with his popular poetry and songs. Many translations of actual Italian poetry and songs of the 14th century are included in the novels. Lapo himself carries the nickname Mosca, fly, for his restlessness, but is also called Lapo Duedonne in reference to his most famous song. The historical figures mentioned in the novels include a number of 14th century travelling musicians, such as Angelo Moronti.



Scant detail is given about the previous life of Lapo Mosca. He was born in Lucca, and although from a poor family received some education in a local school. As an adult he became a travelling musician, apparently achieving his greatest popularity in Tuscany but travelling at least as far as Avignon. Many of his songs were protest songs, but on a bad day in Verona he was arrested for incitement to rebellion: Two men who had put heeded his rebellious advice were hanged, while Lapo himself was only branded, because the local ruler had been amused by his songs. He stopped singing protest songs and year later he joined the Franciscan order, seeking a way to show his solidarity with the poor in a less dangerous manner. He finally settled down in a monastery in Fiesole, which suits him, being a simple and poor institution. It is lead by a guardiano, not named, who Lapo respects for his intelligence and wisdom, even if he may find some of his fellow monks lacking in these qualities. Lapo Mosca is greatly attached to Florence, the capital of Tuscany.

Lapo Mosca as detective

It is not clear from the novels how Lapo Mosca acquired his reputation as a skilled detective, but his superiors in the church are eager to employ him on difficult missions. In the first novel, No leg to stand on (a Dutch expression meaning as much as to lack reasonable arguments), the services of Lapo Mosca are lent to a monastery of the Dominican order in exchange for a relic. In the second, When wolf eats wolf, bishop Orsini sends him to investigate rumours about ghosts and witchcraft in the mountain village of Vertine. In the third, Babylon on the Rhone, Lapo Mosca is sent to Avignon to look after the business interests of his order.

Lapo Mosca relies on his extensive contacts and peasant common sense rather than any scientific method. He walks through he hills of Tuscany, uses his state as a monk and his skills as a musician to gain entry, and interrogates people. He is easily diverted, acquiring subsidiary missions along the way, and follows numerous false tracks. The truth is revealed at the last moment and often by coincidence.

The tone of the novels is often deeply ironic and the plot tends to reflect this. One of the murder victims in When wolf eats wolf is Benedetto Strozzi, an extremely hard and cruel man, through strictly honest. Throughout a long investigation Lapo Mosca assumes that Strozzi has been murdered out of revenge by a relative of one of his own numerous victims, but finally he discovers that Strozzi became the victim of his honesty, and was murdered at the instigation one of his own relatives because he threatened to expose a fraud. Nevertheless Lapo himself decides to promulgate the story that Strozzi was murdered out of revenge by Angelo Moronti, a story which he knows to be untrue, but actually is of some benefit to Moronti's relatives. Such plot twists are typical for the Lapo Mosca novels.


According to her biography, Nolthenius was rather a loner who did not belong to any literary or scientific circle. She is better known for her non-fiction work, the most important of which is a study of the history of Gregorian music.

In 1975 she did publish a first detective novel that was clearly inspired by Agatha Christie. The first Lapo Mosca novel was published in 1978, a few years before the The Name of the Rose in 1980 by Umberto Eco, the third and last one in 1991. Both authors chose to have a Franciscan monk as detective and protagonist in a 14th century Italian setting, and made extensive reference to the historical context. While William of Baskerville is a very intellectual Englishman, Lapo Mosca is an Italian and a simple peasant, but both share the same barbed and somewhat ironic relationship with authorities and wealthy religious orders. References to radical Franciscans, heresy, the papacy in Avignon, and Roger Bacon, can be found in the works of both authors, making it at least plausible that they influenced each other. However, in other respects the two literary worlds are very different, a major distinction being that Nolthenius greatly respected historical accuracy, while Eco deliberately weaved numerous anachronisms into his book.



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