Pistols! Treason! Murder!

This book is currently out of print, although there are still odd copies available online. Watch this space for updates on a future re-release.

Shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s History Awards 2007 and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2008

The year is 1622. Rumours of treason flourish in the city of Venice. The noble Antonio Foscarini stands accused and pays the ultimate price. Gerolamo Vano, General of Spies, provides the evidence. But who is really guilty? Within a year, Vano is swinging from the gallows in Piazza San Marco, and Foscarini is absolved posthumously. Pistols! Treason! Murder! uncovers the shadowy world of seventeenth-century espionage and the truth behind the most infamous miscarriage of justice in the history of Venice.

An in-depth study of Vano’s surveillance reports, Pistols! Treason! Murder! is an account of the spy as storyteller and entrepreneur. Including vivid illustrations in the style of seventeenth-century woodcuts and dialogues with other historians on a bar tour around contemporary Venice, it lays out the painstaking detective work involved in untangling Vano’s career. Aspiring historians will find the methods Walker used to uncover this fascinating story invaluable in their own historical quests.

Originally published by Melbourne University Publishing and Johns Hopkins University Press, an amended second edition of Pistols! Treason! Murder! is currently being prepared.

Recommendations and Reviews for the First Edition

A remarkable book, indeed a work of history of quite astonishing originality and brio. … It … breathes new life, shape, and vigor into a discipline that has become flooded with stock and derivative studies.

Prof. Iain McCalman, University of Sydney

The author intended to write the first postmodern historical monograph in English … and succeeded. The result is wholly original. Even the boldest thinkers in the profession … have retained a largely traditional mode of presentation. Walker has thrown out virtually every convention of the trade, and has adopted a host of techniques that are entirely new to the field … cartoons, invented conversations (but real people and real bars), free use of the author’s voice, apparent digressions, use of different typefaces, author’s self-consciousness, ever-shifting narrative modes, and deep reflection about the business of writing history. The author constantly jumps between genres, tones of voice and language styles – part of his strategy of never allowing the reader to get too comfortable – but the use of multiple perspectives does not harm the coherence of the book. And while there is considerable facetious humor, at heart the book is very serious and asks large questions about the past and our ability to comprehend it. … This book is new, and fresh, and full of verve. It is also deeply thoughtful and reflective.

Prof. James Grubb, University of Maryland

This deeply satisfying book takes readers into the world of seventeenth-century Venetian master spy, Gerolamo Vano. In the process, Jonathan Walker reveals how he creatively made history, out of a newly discovered and fragmentary archive in the form of Vano’s surveillance reports. Closely reading these documents, Walker constructs a spell-binding tale of people and place, in a book that reflects on the practice of history-making and poses large questions about the compact between historians and their readers, and what counts as a trustworthy version of a past.

Judges’ report for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, 2008

Strip away the whiz bangs here—comic-strip sequences, chapters in which the author and friends meet in cafés to talk over their obsession with the past, …—and this is first-rate history, just of a different kind. The flashy stuff works here, with an effect similar to that of Michael Lesy's groundbreaking 1973 Wisconsin Death Trip, where Lesy's pictorial editing forced the reader to look at events a second time, catching nuances that might otherwise have been missed. Walker (research fellow, Univ. of Sydney) describes an incident of spying in 1622 Venice. A master spy, Gerolamo Vano, presents evidence that leads to a Venetian nobleman's hanging on charges of espionage. Five months later, Vano himself is executed for falsifying evidence, and the nobleman is absolved posthumously. But this book isn't just about Vano, about whose machinations the evidence is spotty. It's as much or more a reflection on how one approaches the historical record: how to exhume a coherent narrative from uneven, desultory, and usually self-serving reports. VERDICT This book will infuriate as many scholars as it excites, but it is original, well written, and good. It should intrigue anyone who likes reading history.

David Keymer, Library Journal

Jonathan Walker’s book … crosses boundaries. It plays havoc with the canons of scholarship. Ideally, we authors and reviewers are invisible, or at least write as if barely present. Our standards extol objectivity: a scholar’s doubts, frustrations, glad findings, and other feelings, are exiled to the margins, a few grace notes in dedication and foreword, and no word more. Walker, meanwhile, could hardly be more different. He is everywhere, in prose and in playful illustrations that transform and blend both Venice and his own inquiry as cartoons. … Walker’s tale encircles an evasive man, both moral and literary vacuum, who trafficked in hints, feints, and dubious allegations, and who worked, if not utterly in vain, to little good. The volume, in its playfulness, evokes two struggles, first that of Vano and his fellow spies, partial allies or semi-enemies, to cash in on information amid innuendo, deceit, and treachery; and, second, that of the historian, to extract the narrative threads and a larger truth from the archival traces of the spies’ reports. … Walker’s diagnosis of the Venetian underworld is canny and his trespasses across the boundaries between author and subject lighthearted and fun.

Thomas V. Cohen, Renaissance Quarterly