It’s approaching Christmas in Rome and snow is falling in a way that only happens every twenty or thirty years. The city is soon paralysed by an unseasonal icy grip, and in the dark corners of the Pantheon a grim and mysterious story begins to unfold.
Nic Costa and his partner Gianni Peroni are called to reports of an intruder. Instead they find a woman’s naked body, scarred in a geometric pattern. Almost immediately they are met by a team from the FBI determined to take over an investigation into what they claim is a killer murdering American tourists around the world, in ways which link back to the mystical structure of the Pantheon itself.
But one agent, Emily Deacon, has a different story to tell, one that has a tragic personal dimension. Through her and an elusive Iraqi girl Laila, only witness to the death in the Pantheon, Nic Costa is pulled relentlessly into the world of the Iraq war and the shadowy secret agents whose job was to penetrate the regime of Saddam Hussein before the armed forces attacked.
Soon he is aware that there is a conspiracy at the heart of these deaths that runs back to Washington, and the past of Emily Deacon’s dead father, a tangle of connections he has to unravel, even if it comes at a considerable personal and professional cost.
A madman is loose in the frozen winter landscape of Rome, and as Costa soon realises, he is one the American agents know only too well.
What they said
The third novel in the Nic Costa series was made one of 2006’s Top 10 crime novels by Booklist, the influential magazine of the American Library Association. Booklist’s Bill Ott describes the book as ‘ a corruption-drenched Italian procedural that blends historical detail with contemporary cynicism’, and adds, All the historical detail gives the proceedings a tasty complexity comparable to Pérez-Reverte, but what really makes the novel work is the interplay between the anti-establishment Roman cops.’
Margaret Cannon of the Globe and Mail, Toronto, says…
This is the third novel in this Roman cop series, and I’m hooked. I love the way Hewson combines 4,000 years of Roman history with 21st-century police plots. I love the Ed McBain style, with recurring characters who play different roles in each book. Most of all, I love the atmosphere and the beautifully crafted plots.
P.G. Koth of the Houston Chronicle comments…
For all the high-stakes action, in which a serial killer with possible ties to the black ops of U.S. intelligence wreaks havoc in snowbound Rome, it is the compelling character of… three men that drives the book. The fiercely principled trio, rare enough in the ranks of Rome police, are especially distinct in comparison to the arrogant FBI team, partnered with Italy’s own intelligence ‘ghosts,’ that takes control of the investigation of a murdered woman Costa and Peroni find inside the Pantheon.
She is buried in snow beneath the oculus: ‘a steady swirling stream … , pirouetting around itself with the perfect, precise symmetry of a strand of human DNA, [falling] in the dead center of the room.’ Similarly fine passages further describing the snowstorm that has cloaked the city in silence punctuate the plot, which hinges on a homeless Iraqi girl who is a compulsive pickpocket, and inexperienced FBI agent Emily Deacon, who also has a personal stake in the case.
The novel’s contrast between the gray areas that spies negotiate and the clear imperatives of the law is stark. Peeling away the layers that obfuscate those imperatives becomes a mesmerizing experience.
Joe Hartlaub, of Bookreporter, writes…
Hewson, perhaps more than any other contemporary author, has combined a sense of grand concept – so popular these days – with believable, sympathetic characters who one cares about. Hewson is nothing short of marvelous, as always, mixing in legitimate conclusions with red herrings so that readers and characters both engagingly stumble along to conclusions that may or may not be correct.
As entertaining as this is, however, nothing can match Hewson’s ability to capture the flavor of Rome – a heady stew composed of its people, culture and geography in equal parts – so that what we ultimately are favored with is a mystery steeped in a culture that is contemporaneously familiar and exotic.
Hank Wagner in Mystery Scene…
A happy blend of police procedural and international thriller, Hewson’s third Nic Costa novel finds the trinity of Costa, Peroni and their irascible chief Leo Falcone in fine form, fearlessly grappling with criminals, bureaucracies, their significant others, and the American intellligence community in the pursuit of the truth. Providing laughter and thrillers in equal amounts, Hewson makes it look easy.
The Sacred Cut is totally compelling, one of those rare thrillers which emphasis character over action, although Hewson acquits himself admirably in that department as well. It’s the attention Hewson lavishes on his entire cast that keeps readers; interest piqued; all the rest, as they say, is gravy.
Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times Book Review writes…
Hewson can dress a stage with operatic panache, and here his mise-en-scène is spectacular; the Pantheon, its ancient dome open to ‘a steady, swirling stream of snow, pirouetting around itself with the perfect, precise symmetry of a strand of human DNA’ and enveloping a mutilated body in a funnel of ice. (The) Nic Costa novels, set mainly in Rome and featuring a personable young homicide detective, are built with pleasing symmetry. In the previous books… the settings range from the Vatican library to an archaeological site at Ostia Antica, and the reference points include a Caravaggio painting and ancient Bacchanalian rituals. The killings, despite their savagery, have theatrical flair and are put to vivid use in fascinating lectures on Italian art and history.
Hewson’s solid writing and multidimensional characters command attention from start to finish of this smart, literate thriller.
Hewson’s literate prose, bolstered by local color and historical tidbits, makes for top-flight entertainment.