Melissa Yi could slice your throat and sew it back up again. Legally. Because she's an emergency doctor. This background inspires her to create her heroine, Dr. Hope Sze, who leaps from fixing ingrown toenails to solving full-blown murder. Melissa won the 2023 Derringer Award for the best short mystery in the English language and the Prix Aurora Award for the best speculative poem in Canada. She lives with her family, including two rescue dogs, in Eastern Ontario. Please find her at and receive a free gift with a newsletter subscription.

The Italian School for Assassins by Melissa Yi

When Octavia Ling spots an ad for The Italian School for Assassins, she figures that it sounds like a crazy workout, better than pole dancing, and exactly the kind of nuttiness she craves for her fortieth birthday.

Except, when "V" lands in Florence, the other assassin students seem … awfully serious about this whole execution thing. As in, V's roommate tells her, "If I catch you breaking into my locked weapons cache, I will eat you." And she ain't joking.

V sneaks out for a drink with a hot young Italian guy named Dario and wakes up the in morning with a teeny hangover and a massive problem: someone killed her Scary White Female roommate and framed V for it.

Happy birthday, assassin school style.



  • "Just couldn't put it down. Loved the witty humor, the action and the romance. Even if I'm not a fan of first person narration, this voice was just my cup of tea! Highly recommended."

    – Reader review
  • "I absolutely enjoyed this fun story. Thank you to this excellent writer for creating this novel. Fiction or nonfiction? Hmmm. If we all spent a birthday visiting Italy, personally, I would be enjoying the food and wine:) Yet, I love the author's creativity, her spice for live, and her extraordinary story telling!"

    – Reader review



My roommate Rebecca's alarm kept ringing.

Not just any alarm, but a recording of "Für Elise."

Now, I like Beethoven as much as the next woman, but not at 4:30 a.m. Italian time, or any time, for that matter. I dragged my pillow over my head, rumpling my hair more than I managed to cover up my ears.

Asian hair is hard to mess up. I blamed the very thin pillow. Do Italians not like pillows as much as Canadians do, or is crappy bedding part of the preparation to become an assassin?

In case I forgot to mention it, I'm training to become an assassin. In Florence, Italy. For fun, not for serious.

My pillow's bit of cotton batting hardly blocked out the tinny keyboard recording going nu-nu-Nu-nu-Nu-nu-nuuu …

I cleared my throat.

"Für Elise" played on.

"Rebecca," I rasped. My temples ached. While everyone else had crashed last night, worn out from all the assassin drills, I'd snuck into Florence proper and discovered a bottle of red wine with my name on it.

Nu-nu-Nu-nu-Nuu-nu-nuuu …

I didn't want to fight with my roomie. First of all, she's tall, blonde, and fearsome, kind of like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, only more humourless.

Rebecca had told me that if she caught me breaking into her locked weapons cache, she would eat me. Then she'd hissed. Yes, actually hissed. From Uma to African rock python in 2.2 seconds.

I did ask Mr. Anderson if I could switch rooms after that, but he stared at me with his dead grey eyes. And considering that he's ex-IRA, ex-CIA, and ex-actly as scary as Rebecca of Murderbrook Farm, if not more so, I chirped, "Never mind! It's fine!" and vowed to spend as little time in my room as possible.

I don't know what I was expecting from assassin school. I guess I had it all wrong because it was in Italy. You know, the country shaped like a boot? I thought they made everything fun here. Well, not Mussolini, but fashion, art, language, opera, and foooooooood. And wine. I can vouch for last night's wine. Not to mention the hot young Italian dude who drank it with me.

But you know, even Elizabeth Gilbert didn't stay in Rome and eat for a year. She did spiritual stuff in India, and—what was she doing in Bali again? Besides humping the real-life version of Javier Bardem?

Anyway, last night, I decided I should have a mission for my fortieth birthday. Not only "Hey, let's go downtown and pay strippers for a lap dance"—not that there's anything wrong with that, and my best friend, Jen, did exactly that for hers—but it's predictable, you know? Happy fortieth, do something fake naughty like ogle naked men with Day-Glo penises. Happy 18th, drink. Happy 65th, retire (or whatever it is you do when you're 65).

So when I saw the little online ad for a school for assassins in Florence, I was like, Wassup? That sounds like a crazy workout, better than pole dancing, and exactly the kind of nuttiness I need for a birthday that ends in a zero.

So maybe it's not so surprising that I had the teeniest bit of a hangover on Day 2. And I wasn't exactly looking forward to the workouts, especially since Psycho Rebecca got her alarm mindlessly playing "Für Elise" over and over and over, in the middle of the night. Oh, sorry. The pre-dawn.

"I arise at pre-dawn, in order to accomplish my exercises," she'd informed me last night, staring down her nose at me. The woman had to be six feet tall in sneakers.

"Cool," I'd lied. What else was I going to say, even though I'd rather stay out until dawn instead of rise and shine it?

At this moment in time, I'd gotten three hours of sleep. You know what actor Zyang Ziyi says is the best thing for skin? Not cream that's you couldn't afford if you sold your left kidney. It's sleep. And if you saw her radiant skin in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you'd be hitting the sheets pronto.

So that was what finally made me sit up in bed. If Rebecca the Directa (I know that makes no sense. I'm out of jokes. It's 4:39 in the morning! I'm going bananas from Beethoven!) got up to exercise before shutting off her alarm, then I'd have to do it for her.

Yep, I'm that kind of woman. Don't mess with me.

Even in the middle of the night, thanks to the moonlight and possibly an outside porch light, I could make out the black outline of her blankets. Her little bedside table only had a few objects on it, one of which must be her phone or her alarm. Most people don't use travel alarm clocks anymore, but the music was so robotic, I figured Rebecca had made an exception.

Nu nu nu Nuuuuu, nu nu nu Nuuuuu …

The wind stirred the paper-thin curtain at the window between our beds. Crickets chirped. A train Dopplered in the distance.

Oh, for heaven's sake. How was anyone supposed to catch Z's around here?

As sleep seeped out of my brain, I watched the curtain stir a third time and remembered that I'd closed the window last night, when I came back from drinking. I get cold easily, even in Italy, and this is a stone building. Damp and cold are the operative words. Rebecca had already activated the ceiling fan. So I'd figured I'd close the window but leave the fan on, risking her ire, plus I was drunk and happy from making out with the Italian guy. I shut and locked the window.

Now the window was wide open. Or at least open enough to make the breeze blow.

My heart thudded in my chest while my brain hammered against my temples.

Okay. It was possible, even likely, that Rebecca had woken up and reopened the window while I was passed out, but I turned to stare at the unmoving lump of blankets in Rebecca's bed.

All we were issued was a wafer of a brown wool blanket, a white sheet, and a meager square pillow, which was why I wore my trusty red fleece jacket to bed, plus full-length pyjamas.

That small amount of bedding would not account for the full-sized bump in her bed.

Rebecca was still here, either dead asleep, ignoring the siren call to exercise, or …

She was just plain dead.

I held my breath and stared at the lump. I waited for a twitch of limb or a little sniff to indicate that she was animate.

Da da da Dah, da Dah da Dah.

Right. There was no way I'd catch her clearing her throat, with all of this racket, and even with my eyes adjusting to the darkness, I'd be driven crazy donkey shapes before I figured out yes, she was alive (yay?) or no, she was dead (boo, I guess).

I'd have to turn the light on.

If she was alive and I woke her up, she would kill me. Probably with something sharp out of the weapons cache she kept locked in a steel box in our shared closet.

If she was dead, she was ... dead.

Which one would be worse?

Nu-nu-Nu-nu-Nuu-nu-nuuu …

Okay. The worst was me and Beethoven, frozen in indecision forever.

I took a step toward the light.