The eighth Nic Costa novel, The Blue Demon (City of Fear US), is set entirely in Rome and the area north of the city stretching towards Tuscany known as the Maremma. It’s the first book in the series set in the world of international politics.
The narrative takes place over a few days in which Rome comes to a halt with the arrival of a world G8 summit due to take place in the Quirinale Palace, the former pope’s palazzo that sits atop the Quirinal Hill. A minor Italian politician has been kidnapped, apparently in an attempt to extract information about the summit. Costa and Falcone are summoned to the Quirinale for a meeting with the Italian president, Dario Sordi, and his security advisers.
There they learn that a former terrorist band known as The Blue Demon, long thought dead, has seemingly revived and is threatening to bring chaos to the city for the summit. Sordi, a wily friend of Costa’s late father, believes there is more to the story than meets the eye and wants him and his friends to look more closely at the background of these home-grown terrorists, led by a former professor of Etruscan studies, Andrea Petrakis.
As always I try to blend real Italian history into a modern fictional tale. Part of the story concerns the tragically limited legacy of the Etruscan nation, the predecessors of Imperial Rome who saw their language and culture effectively destroyed when they were defeated by the predecessors of Caesar. While most of the story takes place in Rome there is a brief detour into the Maremma where the vivid and occasionally shocking tombs of the Etruscans have been excavated (and there is a real life Blue Demon, not that he’s easily seen).
The story also embraces more modern history, that of the tragic ‘Years of Lead’ when Italy was gripped by domestic terrorism from both left and right. The true nature of these outrages is now largely known. Their real-life provenance may come as a shock to those unfamiliar with recent Italian history which is why I provide a detailed author’s note at the end of the book. Truth sometimes really is stranger than fiction.
I also wanted to delve a little into Costa’s family background. His father died in the first book of the series, A Season for the Dead. He always struck me as a very interesting character, and I know a number of readers felt the same way. So in this book, through the character of Dario Sordi, we learn more about him and begin to understand something of his fate, and how his own personality shaped that of his son.
But these are subterranean currents in what I hope is a fast-moving and exciting story, a tale of intrigue and political assassination of the cruellest kind. It’s no coincidence that Sordi reveals to Costa in the book that a gift he gave his late father comprised the two books Robert Graves wrote, I, Claudius and Claudius the God, about the dangers of life in the Imperial court of Rome two thousand years ago. I write about history not for history’s sake, but to try to point up how little human beings have changed over the millennia. Sordi’s fondness for the books finds him reading them towards the story’s climax, and this is no accident.
What they said
A threatened terrorist attack during a G8 conference spells trouble both personal and professional for sovrintendente Nic Costa in Hewson’s assured eighth novel to feature the Roman police detective (after Dante’s Numbers). Italian president Dario Sordi, a former friend of Costa’s late father, asks Costa to look into the re-emergence of the Blue Demon, a strange terrorist group fascinated with Etruscan civilization, which is linked to past and present-day murders of bland civil servants and an imminent strike against the conference delegates. As Costa and his team of investigators examine the trails of evidence more closely, what they find does not match the official facts and reveals uneasy connections to the government and other agents that may point to a larger conspiracy. Well-drawn characters, a brisk pace, and some unexpected plot twists provide a satisfying read for the political thriller fan.
Good Book Guide
Another of Hewson’s impeccably written thrillers with (once again) perfect balance between the exigencies of the thriller plot and the carefully conjured locales. Hewson’s Italian-set crime sequence has, as protagonist, the resourceful Nic Costa, and Costa’s stamping grounds — Venice and Rome — are conjured for the reader in novels that combine atmosphere with judicious plotting. Hewson fans will find The Blue Demon has the usual level of storytelling acumen – with Nic investigating the ritual murder of a politician during a G8 summit in Rome. The plotting has a satisfyingly labyrinthine complexity, proving that Hewson has lost none of his grip.
Yorkshire Evening Post
The Italian-based mysteries featuring detective Nic Costa have enabled David Hewson to carve out a prominent position in the crime fiction genre. And rightly so: his thoughtful plots and excellent characterisation are a formidable combination. The Blue Demon – volume eight in the Costa series – finds Hewson at the top of his form’
Starred Review Hewson’s eighth novel starring Rome police sovrintendente Nic Costa returns to the rich themes that drove The Garden of Evil (2008): the commingling of sensuality and perverted idealism. In Garden, the subject was Caravaggio; here it is the Etruscans, whose hedonistic, life-affirming civilization was crushed by the Romans.
As always, Hewson builds an elaborate plot, extending deep into ancient history but evoking fascinating parallels with contemporary situations. Here, the sensitive but largely ineffectual Italian president, himself sympathetic, like the terrorists, to the Etruscan way of life, seems overwhelmed by the ruthless, power-hungry conspirators he opposes, much as the Etruscans were vanquished by the Romans’ “burning desire to own and rule.” But will Costa and his determined band of ruggedly individual, antiauthoritarian colleagues be able to alter the equation? In past reviews, we’ve called this series a “superb mix of history, mystery, and humanity.” That assessment is further reaffirmed with each new entry. –Bill Ott
…as Hewson spins his tale, the heroics of Nic’s squad lead to what may prove to be a significant departure in the author’s next installment. What will not change, though, given his body of work, is Hewson’s compelling storytelling and elegant prose, his ability to give depth to his characters and his knack for making Italy’s past part of each of his novels.
“City of Fear” succeeds as a thriller, of course, but this is a novel of greater importance, grounded in history and geopolitics and the inherent falsehoods in each. The weapons-of-mass-destruction crowd might find this smart work of fiction instructive.