Book Six: The Garden of Evil

The Garden of Evil, has won rave responses from the critics, including coveted starred reviews from garden-of-evil_2Publishers Weekly and Booklist and won best mystery of 2008 title in the American Library Association’s annual genre awards.

PW describes the work as ‘this dark jewel of a thriller’. Booklist’s Bill Ott declares, ‘Arturo Pérez-Reverte has long set the gold standard for mixing history, mystery, and modern life into literary stews of mouthwatering flavor and incredible subtlety, but it’s time to agree that Hewson now shares that position—and is on the verge of claiming it outright.’ The ALA awards citations call it, ‘this masterfully crafted puzzler’.

In a deserted artist’s studio in the heart of Rome, detectives stumble upon a scene of shocking brutality: two bodies, freshly killed. Looming over them is a painting that bears all the hallmarks of a Caravaggio: a brilliantly coloured canvas depicting a violent tableau of beauty and depravity. This grisly discovery sends Nic Costa on a desperate chase through the streets of his city. The consequences are devastating. And for Nic, the case has only just begun.

At the crime scene, detectives find a treasure trove of evidence—from fresh blood to lurid photos of dead prostitutes. For Costa, finding the killer who escaped him is intensely personal. But his prime suspect arrogantly hides in plain sight behind a fortress of money, power, and the law.

Teaming with an art expert, Costa follows clues hidden in the mysterious Caravaggio canvas. As he moves through a maze of history, he begins to make stunning connections to the present case. And each discovery brings him closer and closer to a secret buried in a priceless work of art, a conspiracy dating back four hundred years—and men who will stop at nothing to protect their own private garden of evil.

What they said

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

At the outset of this dark jewel of a thriller, Hewson’s sixth to feature Roman detective Nic Costa (after The Seventh Sacrament), Costa and his team are just starting to process a crime scene in an artist’s shabby studio, where two corpses lie sprawled before a painting of a rapturous female nude redolent of Caravaggio, when they flush out a hooded gunman. The gunman escapes in the ensuing chase… While Costa is taken off the case, his rule-bending boss finds a way for him to help on the sly, assisting the unusual art expert—young Sister Agata Graziano—called in to investigate whether the canvas could really be a Caravaggio and what light it might shed on the murders. You don’t have to be much of a sleuth to foresee danger for Sister Agata, but that’s about the only predictable element in a plot otherwise as serpentine—and suspense filled—as the ancient Roman byways through which Costa stalks his prey.

Bill Ott of Booklist, the magazine of the American Library Association (starred review)

Hewson’s latest Nic Costa thriller opens with a shocker that will have series fans reeling, just as it does the principal players: Rome police detectives Costa and Gianni Peroni and their boss, the brooding Leo Falcone. What follows is another gritty, compelling mix of mean streets and ancient history, as the detectives attempt to unravel an appalling series of murders that seems to connect to an unknown Caravaggio painting depicting a tableau of startling depravity.

With the help of lay sister and Caravaggio expert Agata Graziano, the detectives quickly determine that a group of wealthy Roman aristocrats, impervious to the law, are re-creating the violent, orgiastic lifestyle enjoyed centuries earlier by Caravaggio and his circle, who called themselves the “Ekstasists”—and if a few prostitutes die in support of the hedonists’ revels, what of it? As usual, Hewson mixes art history and contemporary crime perfectly, but this time he digs deeper, finding connections between art and life that go to the very heart of humanity’s conflicted cravings for the sensual and the spiritual. And emerging from the complex, masterful plot, its sinews intertwined between past and present, is the towering, tragic figure of Caravaggio, whose still-unsolved murder in Rome in 1606 holds the key to bringing the modern-day Ekstasists to justice.

Arturo Pérez-Reverte has long set the gold standard for mixing history, mystery, and modern life into literary stews of mouthwatering flavor and incredible subtlety, but it’s time to agree that Hewson now shares that position—and is on the verge of claiming it outright.

BookBrowse’s Kim Kovacs writes…

I have a rule: I won’t call a book a page-turner unless reading it causes me to miss my bus stop. Engrossed in David Hewson’s latest mystery, The Garden of Evil, I missed my stop not once but twice – and that was before I was halfway through the novel. This one’s a page-turner all right! It’s also a top-notch, high-quality detective procedural that will appeal to readers who enjoy a literary mystery.

Setting his novel entirely in Rome, Hewson does a wonderful job of recreating the city for his readers, allowing its atmosphere to permeate the book. His readers not only “see” the city with their imagination, they “feel” the cold stones of its streets and buildings and experience the claustrophobia of its alleys as the detectives pursue their suspect.

Authors with the ability to create such vivid descriptions of time and place sometimes fall short when it comes to writing action sequences. Such is not the case with Hewson who delivers action that is both riveting and cinematic. What truly draws the reader, though, are the sections of the novel that concentrate on revelation – revelation of clues to solving the crime as well as the illumination of the principals’ characters.

In the Richmond Times-Dispatch Jay Strafford writes…

When art imitates life, the result can be powerful. And when it takes inspiration from death, it’s at once mesmerizing and terrifying.

Such is the case with David Hewson’s The Garden of Evil (480 pages, Delacorte, $24), the sixth book in the British author’s series featuring Nic Costa, a police detective in Rome, and his colleagues.

Hewson draws his characters well; each book continues their growth and the reader’s affection for them. In The Garden of Evil, a new character, Agata Graziano, a sister in a convent and an art expert, particularly engages the imagination. And Hewson’s imagery is striking — a police car’s “blue light flashed down the alley, like some mutant Christmas decoration newly escaped from the tree.”

A thought-provoking blend of art history and mystery, The Garden of Evil is primarily a novel about sin — original sin, as well as old sins made new. A chilling tale rendered in evocative prose, it’s Hewson’s latest triumph — and a treat for readers who like their entertainment literate.

Margaret Cannon, in the Toronto Globe & Mail

The Nic Costa series, set in Rome, is one of my favourites. Hewson sets his stories so firmly in place that it’s possible to go from street to piazza to alley, and almost feel the stones of the walks or touch the ancient Roman bricks. The Garden of Evil is the best book so far in the Costa series, and that’s saying a lot. But Hewson takes his plotting here a giant step further than in the usual cop/chase story.

Peter Burton in the Daily Express

The Garden of Evil is the sixth in the Costa series and is even more gripping than its predecessors. Hewson is a cunning storyteller… What follows is a deadly cat-and-mouse game during which the body count steadily rises and Roman history once again proves to be a vital component in the case. The Garden of Evil is impossible to put down.

In Mystery News Harriet Stay writes…

I have loved all of Hewson’s thrillers or suspence procedurals and this was no exception. It sizzles with grisly murders, well-drawn characters you care about (there were times I wanted to scream or cry), dialogue to envy and all in all a story not to forget.

At Bookreporter Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum writes… The Garden of Evil is one of the best literary police procedurals written this season. The breadth and intense accuracy of David Hewson’s research is the palette he uses for the landscape against which (the book) is juxtaposed. With the stroke of his pen, he transports readers to times and places buried in eons of history while seamlessly bringing them back to the present. In each of his books his protagonist, Nic Costa, has slowly shed his picaresque role and is now a man with a real sense of self. No longer the naïve beat cop, he has earned his stripes as a detective, which adds verisimilitude to the way he ferrets out the clues that he needs to solve the murders in this labyrinthine drama.

Those who are already fans will not want to miss The Garden of Evil. And new readers will find themselves enchanted by Hewson’s storytelling abilities.