Casanova's Alibi and Other Stories - Rafael Sabatini _Casanova’s Alibi & Other Stories_ is an enjoyable collection of shortish tales from the master of swashbucklers who gave us Scaramouche and Captain Blood. Drawing from what is perhaps the most rich vein he could find for his métier in history we follow that arch-scoundrel and Prince of Adventurers himself, Giacomo Casanova. The nine tales collected herein follow Casanova from his earliest transgressions in Venice to the somewhat more seasoned (though no less audacious) exploits of his later years.

We see Casanova pulling the wool over the eyes of various dupes, whether it be as an aggrieved brother, an ostensible alchemist or spirit medium, or the apparent champion of a slighted dancer. As is to be expected he is always looking for the angle; the best way in which to advance his position or get some cash (though he would never, of course, be so gauche as to put it that way). Sabatini walks a nice line with his character: on the one hand he obviously admires his audacity and plethora of talents, on the other he is quick to use his narrative intrusions to regretfully point out some of the moral failings of his hero (with the occasional stance of disbelief that such calumny as is reported of him could really be true). In connection with this I also found it surprising (or perhaps given the era in which these stories were written “intriguing” would be the correct word) that there is nary a reference to Casanova’s preeminent role as debaucher and deflowerer of young women. Aside from a casual reference to “intrigues” or the fact that “a handsome face in either a man or woman was ever an irresistible recommendation to Casanova” little enough is said about it until the very last story in the collection. Even here, in “Casanova in Madrid”, we see the relationship we might expect reversed and it is Casanova who falls for the mysterious woman he only glimpses from his window and on whose account much trouble ensues (though Sabatini does admit that his hero is something of a “hard-bitten, flamboyant adventurer of ripe experience and jaded appetites” with an “excessive appetite for philandering”).

While Casanova is certainly an active hero, and a man inordinately aware of his own self-professed honour, he’s no D’Artagnan willing to face down a half dozen swordsmen in the name of it. He is much more calculating than that and will cut-and-run when he has to. He’s a smart gamester and knows that his reputation can be restored later, but his life can’t be regained once it’s lost. His sardonic wit also shares a lot with his scribe’s equally famous creation Scaramouche. You can tell, by reading about either of these characters from the pen of Sabatini, that he got a real kick out of portraying their clever wit. Indeed, it is generally Casanova’s tongue and not his sword that is sharpest and against which his opponents would be wise to take guard.

To the best of my knowledge (a reading some years ago of the abridged The Story of My Life) all of the tales in this volume are based on reality (at least reality as it was reported by Casanova himself) and it really does show what an amazing character this man was. Even if Sabatini is simply taking the bones of a “true” event and fabricating his own story and character around it, the bones are pretty amazing and unbelievable in themselves. Sabatini does a good job with nearly all of these tales and the collection is well-worth reading, though I have to admit that he does not reach the heights achieved by Scaramouche.