It is no secret to anyone who has read this blog for a spell that I love a good mystery - although my strategy for reading them is a tad odd. There are few things that make me happier than sitting down with a well written book that has a huge puzzler as the main plot device. Throw in some well crafted characters and a wonderful setting and I am hooked from beginning to end.
A few years ago someone on the slow travel website suggested that I might enjoy reading the mystery series by David Hewson. His series of modern crime stories featuring an ensemble of police officers in Rome, led by the young detective Nic Costa, began with A Season for the Dead, and has now been contracted to run to at least nine installments by British, American, European and Asian publishers. His mysteries expose the grittier side of life in Italy which I enjoy. Imagine my surprise when I was in the book store and I found a recently published novel by Hewson - The Cemetry of Secrets.
Previously published in 2001 as Lucifer's Shadow this novel does not feature the wonderful band of police officers and lab technicians that I have come to enjoy in a Hewson story. Here you have different characters who are all well-developed. As well, this is not the tourist Venice of San Marco and the Rialto. The book features the seamier side of life in Venice - arched throught a period of 200 years.
Now, to be fair, Venice is awash with fictional detectives. It's the birthplace and spiritual home of Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen as well as Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti. It's an easy market to enter – Venice has so much to offer the aspiring novelist with its historic city and dubious politics – but a difficult one to conquer. This mystery is unique in that there isn't really a detective racing about searching for clues - the reader becomes the detective and is left to pull the pieces from the two interwoven stories to figure out what is unfolding in Venice.
Hewson has Venice to perfection – the dying city which is being turned into a theme park to attract yet more of the tourists who are strangling the place. He has the murky politics too – the place where not being corrupt is quaint and rather strange and it's accepted that those who rise to the top are likely to be crooks, with the only worry being the advantages which might flow from this.
I really did enjoy this exciting story set in Venice and the descriptions (nicely descriptive but not too flowery or lengthy) really made me want to visit Venice again to see some of the places mentioned through moreopened eyes. The book cleverly jumps between two timelines, the 1700's and present day. The two stories are intertwined and mirror each other very interestingly.
I don't want to give too much of the plot away but will say that this is a good page turner, well written and has a hugely satisfying ending. Its not a ridiculously complicated plot but rather contains a natural suspense and sense of intrigue. I would definitely recommend it.
One thing that was intriguing to me was that as I read this book because the characters seemed so familiar to me. When I finished the book I decided to find my copy of the 'Lizard's Bite' and wouldn't you know it - many of the same characters feature in that story as well. In fact, one might suggest that 'the Cemetery of Secrets' serves as a prequel of sorts to the later story.
If you're like me and you love a well-crafted mystery (especially should it be set in beautiful but murky Venice) - you'll want to give this a read - regardless of whether or not you've read any of Hewson's other books (and if you haven't - what have you been waiting for?).