Book Four: The Lizard’s Bite

82940273_19a20eb466_mIn a dilapidated glass furnace off the island of Murano the fire races out of control. Two people are dead, and for Leo Falcone, exiled to Venice, with Nic Costa and Gianni Peroni, the question is whether he’s dealing with one murderer or two.

For Costa, life in Venice is more perplexing on other fronts too. His relationship with Emily Deacon is deepening, and she is missing the law enforcement work she’s abandoned for a different, quieter career. Slowly, the sluggish world of the lagoon begins to enfold the Romans in its sinister grip, as they try to untangle the complex family ties of the tragic Arcangeli family on a private island falling into ruin.

The Lizard’s Bite is in part a companion piece to the earlier standalone novel, The Cemetery of Secrets, bringing several characters from that story into the tale of murder, betrayal and deceit which Costa and his colleagues must unpick in the heady, close heights of the Venetian summer.

The Venetian police turn to the Romans to wrap it up quickly and cleanly, in time for the English tycoon, Hugo Massiter, to complete his purchase of the island. To Falcone, this seems a small matter, a domestic murder of little more than intellectual interest. But as the summer heat takes hold, and the Romans’ investigations begin to grate with a local force more interested in tidy solutions than awkward questions, the island’s spell begins to cast a wider net.

What they said

Publishers Weekly starred review

British author Hewson’s wonderfully complex and finely paced fourth crime novel (after 2005’sThe Sacred Cut) to feature Roman detective Nic Costa and his unconventional partner, Gianni Peroni, finds the pair exiled to Venice, where they look into the case of glassmaker Uriel Arcangelo, who apparently killed his wife, Bella, then committed suicide. Instead of coming to the foreordained conclusion higher authority demands, Costa and Peroni determine, “We’re no longer trying to understand the means Uriel Arcangelo used to kill his wife. But why, how and with whom the late Bella appears to have conspired to kill him.”

An urbane and wealthy Englishman who wants to buy the Isolo degli Arcangeli glassworks becomes an important suspect. Hewson is particularly strong on characterization, revealing each personality subtly and naturally as he or she reacts to the intricate plot developments. Newcomers as well as series fans will be enthralled.

Bookreporter, Joe Hartlaub

David Hewson may well be the finest mystery writer of our time. In my humble opinion, he’s also one of our best contemporary writers, period. There are elements of Agatha Christie, Graham Greene and William Shakespeare in his work, but when you sit down and crack the spine of A SEASON OF THE DEAD or THE VILLA OF MYSTERIES, what you have is all and uniquely Hewson.Hewson peppers THE LIZARD’S BITE with a number of interesting – and fascinating – factoids about places and subjects that compel the reader to find out more on their own. But this common thread (among others) through Hewson’s novels is not performed by rote. Think instead of a tightrope walker who performs his work daily for the same audience but introduces a new, and jeopardous, element every time. That’s a Hewson novel. Very highly recommended.

Margaret Cannon, Toronto Globe and Mail

If you haven’t already discovered this brilliant series featuring Nic Costa and a cast of Roman detectives, you have a treat in store. The Lizard’s Bite is the fourth book in the set and, like the other three, it is superb. Hewson likes to combine history, art and detection, and he delivers them all with different focuses for different books. The Lizard’s Bite is about glass. Followers know that Nic Costa and Gianni Peroni have been exiled from Rome and sent to Venice. Only a Roman would find that a trial.

Leo Falcone, meanwhile, is assigned to the Carabinieri’s art-theft division. Everyone converges on the Veneto in summer, a blistering season of sirocco winds and dry, burning heat. In Murano, the glassmakers spin the exquisite spirals and colours that have been the trademark of Venetian glass for centuries.

One stifling night, Uriel Arcangelo tends the family furnace. His job is to have the molten glass ready for the glassblowers in the morning. But more than glass is burning in the Arcangelo furnaces, and the terrors of the night turn into death and destruction, exposing a secret that can destroy the entire family. Hewson manages to tuck in plenty of art secrets and thrills, and some nods to the fad for Da Vinci Code-style mysteries. This is another great novel by a fine author.

The Literary Review

Hewson’s very enjoyable Italian mysteries are cleverly worked out and sharply written, and his take on the secretive city is much more uncomfortable and sinister than Leon’s (Donna Leon’s Through a Glass, Darkly, which is reviewed previously). In his hero’s eyes it is like ‘a bad yet familiar relative, dangerous to know, difficult to let go’.

New York Times

The mises-en-scene of David Hewson’s elaborate Italian-based novels are always so flamboyantly operatic that I keep expecting the principals to break out in song…. told with dashing style, in atmospheric set pieces that capture the theatrical grandeur of Venice and the pockets of miserable squalor behind its splendid facade.

Boston Globe

This complex novel, a journey to hell and back, is leavened with food and humor and propelled by suspense and action. The atmospherics are extraordinary — Hewson does Venice every bit as well as Tony Hillerman does New Mexico. The ending is particularly satisfying, like watching a multistage finale to a spectacular fireworks display.

Denver Post

Layered into the story are some complex relationships among members of the withdrawn and insular Arcangelo family, clinging to their ancient art in a world overrun by tourists looking for cheap trinkets, as well as a stalled love affair between Costa and former FBI agent Emily Deacon. And it is complicated further by a rich, powerful and amoral Englishman (from an earlier non-series book, Lucifer’s Shadow), who holds the key to the whole mystery but can’t be touched by the Venetian police. Venice itself, a “beautiful graveyard of a city,” as one of the characters calls it, is always the heart and soul of this rich, complex and thoroughly bewitching book.

Toronto Sun

This fourth book in David Hewson’s original series… again features Roman detective Nic Costa and his colleagues. On a tiny island near Murano, the glass furnace of the Arcangeli family is dangerously overheating. Uriel Arcangelo is killed by a savage fire, which almost consumes the furnace. His death is deemed an accident. But when his wife’s body is found, the Roman detectives are asked to conduct their own investigation in time for English tycoon Hugo Massiter to finish buying the Arcangeli island.

Massiter is on his way to becoming a modern-day Doge in Venice, in terms of power and influence, and although the detectives suspect he is involved in the deaths at the glass factory, he seems untouchable. The densely plotted story needs to be carefully followed, but the drama and characters make it an absorbing read.