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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Review: 'Carnival for the Dead'

By David Hewson
August 2012
Thomas & Mercer
ISBN: 9781612183985

David Hewson's Nic Costa novels of Rome feature strong plots and strong characters. Among the strongest of the secondary characters is police pathologist Teresa Lupo. However, when she goes to Venice during Carnival to search for her beloved aunt, who is missing, she may be at her most vulnerable because she is out of her element.

Teresa's Aunt Sofia has always lived as a vagabond. Even Teresa's mother doesn't know the kind of details that families usually know that prove helpful in, say, missing persons reports. When Teresa contacts the police, she is met with little sympathy. Her aunt is a grown woman with no diminished capacity and it's Carnival. The police have a lot of other things going on.
Staying at her aunt's flat, Teresa mets the neighbors, a young woman who makes masks for the other main occupant, an older man confined to a wheelchair. The owner is rarely there. The neighbors, although nice, especially for Venetians to Teresa's Roman mind, know little that is helpful. When Teresa finds an envelope slipped under the apartment door with a story, she learns that this and subsequently delivered stories are supposed to lead her to Sofia.

Hewson is a master at weaving these stories, which feature Teresa and other people she meets, with the real story of her search for Sofia. The stories include a British professor and a young Englishman who is a master baker, who both end up in Venice, and a woman who resembles Sofia's neighbor Camille, but with an odd need for nutrients in other people's blood. Carnival season and the narrow, twisty streets of Venice add layers of mystery to the novel; this is not the Venice of a traveller's delight, but rather a dark place where people's obsessions become overpowering.

The stories also feature the enigmatic Count St. Germain, who is based loosely on a real person who was as mysterious as the one in Hewson's story. Readers who know of a St. Germain through Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's groundbreaking series of historical paranormals or in Diana Gabaldon's stories will recognize this figure, even though he is not the same character.

When the stories Teresa has been receiving and her investigation merge into one storyline, there is the usual over-the-top action seen in most thrillers. But Hewson does make everything fit together without jamming it into place. And there is sweetness along with the bitter in the telling.

The main result of reading the novel, however, is to want to spend more time with Hewson's Nic Costa series and see Teresa Lupo back where she belongs.

The novel was not published by Hewson's regular publisher but rather by the Amazon imprint Thomas & Mercer.

©2012 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

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