July 10th, 2012


Book 90: Carnival for the Dead by David Hewson

Book 90: Carnival for the Dead.
Author: David Hewson, 2011.
Genre: Mystery. Crime Fiction with a touch of the Gothic and Magical Realism
Other Details: Hardback. 367 pages.

Subtitled 'A Venetian Mystery', this stand-alone mystery features Teresa Lupo, the Chief Forensic Pathologist who has been one of my favourite supporting characters in Hewson's Nic Costa series. The novel opens with a quote by John Ruskin on the golden city of Venice and one by John Milton from Paradise Lost about the unseen spiritual creatures all about us. These set the mood for what follows.

In February during Carnival Teresa has travelled to Venice to investigate the mysterious disappearance of her bohemian Aunt Sofia. Teresa goes to Sofia's apartment in the Dorsoduro but finds no clues as to what has happened to her aunt though meets Sofia's equally eccentric neighbours who soon become Teresa's allies in her search. The mystery deepens when Teresa receives a letter containing a piece of fiction in which both Sofia and Teresa appear. This is just the first in a number of stories sent to Teresa with links to Venetian art and history. Are these messages being sent by Teresa, her possible abductor or a third party seeking to assisting Teresa in unravelling the mystery?

This was a complex and deeply satisfying mystery, quite different to the Nic Costa books but no less gripping. I've always been impressed by David Hewson's interweaving of history and art into his police procedurals. Here alongside the richness of Venetian Renaissance art, he uses the haunting and somewhat claustrophobic streets, alleyways and canals of Venice during Carnival to deepen the sense of mystery and that sense that anything is possible. The short stories interspersed throughout the novel heighten this atmosphere and blur the lines between reality and the unknown.

During her stay in Venice Teresa keeps encountering the disturbing masked figure of Medico della Peste, the Plague Doctor. Indeed, I very much enjoyed the way the elements of the Gothic and touches of magical realism contrasted with Teresa Lupo's pragmatism. From the start I was reminded of Daphne du Maurier's classic story set in Venice, Don't Look Now.

This is to be Hewson's last Italian-based novel for the time being (and maybe forever). He is currently working with the creators of the acclaimed Danish TV series The Killing and writing two novels based on that series. Still I have a number of his stand-alone titles to read as well as the recently published The Killing and I am sure that wherever his muse takes him in the future I will continue to be an avid reader.
  • cat63

Book 33 for 2012

Muddle Earth by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. 448 pages.

Fantasy humour aimed at teenagers. Young Joe is summoned to Muddle Earth by Randalf the Wise, who's looking for a warrior hero to go on a quest for him. Of course Joe isn't really a warrior hero, but then Randalf isn't much of a wizard…

Reasonably amusing and readable enough, but the joke wears a bit thin after a bit.
book and cup

#70 Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen (1817)

The fourth of my re-reads this month.
I remember reading this book a long time ago now – I may have been about eighteen, it introduced me to Mrs Radcliffe who I hadn’t previously heard of. I read the Castle of Udolpho and the Romance of the Forest as a result.
In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland is presented to us by a rather tongue in cheek Jane Austen as not being a typical heroine.
No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard — and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings — and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on — lived to have six children more — to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number; but the Morlands had little other right to the word, for they were in general very plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any. She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features — so much for her person; and not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind.
Accompanying some friends to Bath for a few weeks, Catherine soon makes the acquaintance of Isabella and John Thorpe. Jane Austen presents these fairly monstrous creations hilariously, poor Catherine seems unaware of her new friend’s duplicitousness –the reader however is immediately on the alert. Catherine enjoys the society of Bath, and her new friend Isabella, although she takes an instant dislike to her oafish brother. He however has set his sights on Catherine. However soon after meeting the Thorpes, Catherine meets Henry and Eleanor Tilney, Catherine is immediately attached to the Tilney’s finding them to be exactly on her wavelength. Having danced with Henry Tilney, Catherine cannot help but look for him at every dance and at every play she attends. Unfortunately John Thorpe is quite happy to throw a spanner in the works, and is cause for an embarrassing misunderstanding between Catherine and Eleanor. Thankfully the misunderstanding is healed and Catherine is invited to stay with Eleanor at Northanger Abbey, the family home. To Catherine a great reader of romances by such authors as Mrs Radcliffe, the name of Northanger Abbey excites her imagination.
Upon arrival at Northanger Abbey, Catherine does allow her imagination to run away with itself, when she decides there must be some mystery surrounding Henry and Eleanor’s father, and their deceased mother. However just when Catherine finally seems to have settled in to her stay at Northanger Abbey, having put all such suspicions behind her, and to have real hopes of Henry Tilney’s intentions towards her – she is unceremoniously packed off home.
This was a delightful re-read for me. I had forgotten, somehow just how funny Jane Austen is. Her observations of people and their petty ridiculousness’s are quite brilliant; she has a sharp wit and a real eye for the inconsistencies and vagaries of human beings. I am now intending to re-read all my Jane Austen’s at some point – not sure when – the state of TBR being what it is – but I really want to revisit them all.