It’s February, and Carnival time in Venice. Bright blue skies and freezing temperatures welcome Teresa Lupo, forensic pathologist to the Rome Questura, to the city. She is greeted off the vaporetto by an anonymous masked man dressed as The Plague Doctor.
Teresa has taken time out from her job to find her beloved bohemian aunt Sofia who has mysteriously disappeared. There seem to be no clues as to her whereabouts, but a visit to Sofia’s very strange apartment in the Dorsoduro confirms Teresa’s suspicions that all is not well.
The puzzle deepens when a letter reveals a piece of fiction in which both Sofia and Teresa appear. Even more strange, are the links to Venetian culture which gradually begin to surface. Are the messages being sent by Sofia herself? Her abductor? Or a third party seeking to help her unravel the mystery?
The revelation when it comes is as surprising and shocking as Sofia’s fate. And Teresa herself comes to depend upon the unravelling of a mystery wrapped deep inside the art and culture of Venice itself.
This is going to be my last Italian outing for a while… perhaps for good, who knows? After eleven books set in the beautiful surroundings of Rome and Venice, it’s time to move to new pastures. So it felt the right time to give Teresa Lupo a book of her own. She’s one of my favourite characters in the series and I know many readers feel the same way. She’s been nagging me for a book of her own for a while too. And she’s not a lady who likes the word ‘no’.
Here then it is… a story that has the texture and richness, I hope, of my earlierLucifer’s Shadow/The Cemetery of Secrets. A very Venetian mystery set in that odd freezing moment that is carnival. Teresa is on the track of her missing aunt, with no Costa, Peroni or Falcone to guide her. Only some mysterious short stories which seem — unknown to her — to hark back to writers like MR James and Robert Aickman.
Stories in which characters she knows begin to appear… and eventually she finds herself there too.
This isn’t the last of my Romans by the way. They’re just taking a well-earned break.
You can see some of the photos I took while researching this book on Flickr here.
What they said
Carnival For The Dead is a reminder that we are in the hands of one of the most accomplished crime writers in this country.
As the city is transformed into a magical place by the carnival Teresa Lupo is investigating the strange disappearance of her aunt Sofia, a lively and unconventional figure. Her search takes her into ever more dangerous territory and here Hewson tips his hat to some of the great chroniclers of sinister Venice, such as Daphne du Maurier.
As so often with Hewson the tangled history of Italy exerts a powerful influence on the characters and the revelations in Carnival are as extraordinary as anything the writer has delivered before.
David Hewson bravely invades the stamping ground of Donna Leon in the complex and cunning Carnival for the Dead.
Hewson has a mind that loves to be let off the leash. Several of his previous plots have revolved around art and literature, and here the key to the killer lies in the city’s paintings and their ambiguous messages. Those who admire Renaissance art will appreciate Hewson’s close interest in Italy’s astonishing artistic legacy and all that trails in its wake, though this reader will never view Vittore Carpaccio’s work in the same light again, and certainly not without looking over her shoulder.
On every page the harsh February air bites, while patient, courtly Venetians add texture at the edges of the portrait. As one character says, “I’m not Italian, I’m a Venetian.” If one takes but a single message from this novel it is that Venice is a world apart, with its own manners and rules and history. A mere Roman, such as Lupo, can never hope to fathom it fully. That Hewson comes close is a tribute to his powers of imagination.
Venice has long been a favourite setting for crime fiction but this dense, rich, chilling yet always charming novel gives us a fresh view of the City of Masks.