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.