Back at the beginning of 2001 I was rather of the opinion my short career as a novelist was over. I’d had five books published with varying success. The first, Semana Santa, now republished as Death in Seville, was very successful and at that point being made into a (rather disappointing) movie. After a successful second novel, Epiphany, my career had, frankly, stalled in spite of some wonderful reviews for my last book Lucifer’s Shadow (now Cemetery of Secrets — sorry these titles do change when books are republished).
Sitting in a hotel in Seville, occasionally watching the movie of Semana Santa being made just outside the front door, I reread that first book of mine. Though it had plenty of faults, which I hope I corrected to some extent for the republication, I still liked its basic premise: a dark crime story set in a Mediterranean location.
So I determined to take what I thought might be one last tilt at this game. I was out of contract, with poor sales for my recent books, but I still had an enthusiastic agent thank goodness. So I wrote A Season for the Dead, which I thought was a standalone crime story, set in contemporary Rome. From the outset I was determined that the protagonist, Nic Costa, wouldn’t be a character out of Central Casting. So he’s not middle-aged, alcoholic, melancholic, miserable yet fantastically attractive to women. Costa’s young, a bit naive at times, steadfastly honest and good to the extent that he reminds those around him why they became cops in the first place.
My first publisher rejected the book outright. But my present UK publisher, Macmillan, leapt at it and immediately offered me a three-book contract to develop the series. This was an incredibly brave decision in the circumstances, not least because I hadn’t the slightest idea what the second book might be.
I did decide, however, that Costa would not be alone in his adventures. In the second book I introduced the three other characters who follow him throughout the ensuing stories: Gianni Peroni, an older, bluff former officer knocked down to the ranks; Leo Falcone, a somewhat aloof if well-meaning father figure who’s Costa’s inspector; and Teresa Lupo, the pathologist in the fictional Rome Questura where these stories are based.
In many ways these books have become the story of Costa’s growing up in a fractured and difficult world, and the importance of Peroni, Teresa and Falcone in that process. They’re tales about family I think, not simple procedurals about the pursuit of villains. There are nine books in the series and one short story, Dead Men’s Socks. And Teresa has a solo outing of her own in Carnival for the Dead.
Will there be more? I honestly don’t know. I’ve written eleven books set in Italy and I’ve enjoyed working on every one. But there are other worlds and characters I want to explore, and I think they will engage me for the near future at least.
The entire series has been acquired by Bavaria, the media giant, for production as an English language TV series set in Rome. That’s still in the development process. What happens may shape any future Costa books… we’ll see.
In the meantime here’s something I get asked for all the time: the chronology of the series.
Each book is a standalone story though there is an underlying tale of the relationships between these people running across them all. That doesn’t mean you need to read them in order, though. Feel free to dip in as you see fit.