Book Two: The Villa of Mysteries

villa20of20mysteries20It’s spring in Rome. Nic Costa is just back at work after the cataclysmic events of A Season for the Dead, with a new partner, Gianni Peroni, a disgraced vice inspector bounced down to the ranks. And on the edge of the city an American couple make a discovery that will rock the city. As the jacket says…

The Villa of Mysteries appropriates the beauty and savagery of classical Rome and sets it off against the corruption and sleaze of the present day.

Teresa Lupo, a maverick pathologist, thinks she has the victim of an ancient pagan ritual on her hands. Inspector Leo Falcone, however, knows this case is recent history and one that desperately needs a solution. So begins an investigation that will take the police deep into the dark underworld of Rome’s most disturbing and sinister secrets.

Emilio Neri, the local mafia boss, seems to be one of the keys to the mystery, and he can’t even trust his own wayward son. Retired US mobster Vergil Wallis is another key player who’s reluctant to talk. Meanwhile, someone is trying very hard to kill the pathologist. And now another beautiful young woman has gone missing in familiar circumstances.

The second book in any series is always important. It needs to lay the foundations for the stories, and the characters, that follow. Unlike A Season for the Dead, this book shifts the viewpoint from beyond Nic Costa alone, to those around him, men and women with more years in law enforcement, more than a touch of cynicism in some cases… and a habit of catching their breath when Costa, bright, young, incorruptible, comes on the case.

 

What they said

Margaret Cannon, Globe and Mail, Toronto writes…

If you missed A Season for the Dead, the first novel in this series set in modern Rome and featuring Inspector Leo Falcone, you’re in for a treat. This one’s even better and the cast of characters, some just touched on in the first book, is coming alive.

Hewson’s strong suit is his ability to blend ancient and modern Rome, a feat that happens naturally if you’re standing at the edge of the Janiculum, but is difficult otherwise. Hewson’s plot, woven with ancient lore, has just the right amount of information and deduction.Teresa Lupo is a pathologist longing for the big find. When a woman’s body is found in a peat bog near the Tiber, she thinks she has it. The body is recent, but there are signs pointing to an ancient ritual, a killing in a manner not seen for centuries.

A hidden cult? Lupo is set on uncovering the secret. That determination is deadly, as Insp. Leo Falcone knows. He fears for Lupo’s life as the investigation takes the Rome police into the inner sanctums of criminals hidden not only by power but by history.Along the way, the story picks up the tales of detectives Costa and Peroni, mafioso Emilio Neri, and an American mobster on holiday. All that, and then another young woman is missing and presumed murdered. This is a terrific novel by a fine emerging British talent.

Strand Magazine says…

No less intricate and atmospheric than the first novel in this series, A Season for the Dead, Hewson’s second police procedural set in today’s colorful, corrupt Rome… seethes with intrigue and depravity. This psychologically wrenching novel delves deep into the theme of Euripedes’ enigmatic classical tragedy Bacchae – that humanity ignores or tries to sublimate its unconscious drives at its own risk. Peroni sums it up succinctly: ‘One day when you’re least expecting it, the crazy gene wakes up and you know it’s pointless trying to fight.’ And that ‘crazy gene’ overcomes ethics, morals, even reason itself.

In the leading book website Bookreporter Joe Hartlaub writes…

Hewson is nothing less and never less than marvelous throughout. He does not even attempt to explain the labyrinthine and uneasy connections between the Italian police and organized crime and the always blurry line which is both a line of demarcation and commonality between the two, but illustrates it so sharply through anecdotal description that one comes away with an understanding which is difficult to articulate but easy to know.

Hewson does not wait until the end… to begin reigning in his numerous plot lines, choosing instead to introduce and resolve issues from beginning to end, so that by the end of this magnificent work, there is no sense of a rush to resolution, even as, unknown to the reader, there is much to be resolved.

The depth of what Hewson has accomplished, however, goes beyond his considerable plotting and narrative skills. For what Hewson has created… may arguably be one of the most strongly and subtly feminist novels of recent note. The women at the beginning of this work are all victims; by the end…things are…well, they are not the same. This is a work, and an author, of unforgettable stature.

Jay Strafford of the Richmond Times-Dispatch writes…

On the heels of his stunning first entry in the Nic Costa series, A Season for the Dead , British author David Hewson returns to modern-day Rome for a second book involving the police detective. As The Villa of Mysteries opens, Costa is back on the job after six months recupation from what befell him in the first book. He and his new partner, Gianni Peroni, are getting to know each other when a woman reports that her teenage daughter has been abducted… Among the nasty secrets uncovered are a Dionysian cult, a mob connection, and government corruption. As he did in A Season for the Dead, Hewson writes a compellingly complex novel, one with numerous twists. Near the end, one surprises-and a second stuns. A haunting portayal of evil-and damaged women- The Villa of Mysteries will leave readers eager for Costa’s third adventure.

Jennifer Baker of Booklist says…

Once again capturing the imagination of historical mystery lovers, the author of Lucifer’s Shadow brings an ancient Dionysian ritual to light as a clue in this riveting and fast-paced thriller… A complex and satisfying mystery from a master plot maker.

From Mystery News

This is a richly layered crime novel. It takes the reader into a sometimes slow but always fascinating journey through the rituals of ancient Rome as well as the rites of the modern mob. Background is as important as is the back story of all the major characters. This makes them all more believable, more human, and much more interesting.The author’s sense of place is wonderful. The city of Rome lays before us as we sip coffee in one of the sunny piazzas, wander through a narrow back street half in shadow, stare at monuments to the powerful ancient empire. I can almost taste the chilled white wine or the ice cream in the Piazza Navona… An intriguing and thoughtfully complex story. Many things are not what they seem and the author delights in surprising the reader more than once in this finely done crime novel.

Beth Cason, of the Anniston Star writes…

After losing his partner, Luca Rossi, on his previous case, and after six months of recuperation, Italian detective Nic Costa rejoins the police force… his commanding officer pairs him with a veteran officer from vice, Gianni Peroni.On their first call they are sent to investigate the discovery of the body of a young girl found in a peat bog. At first it looks like a find for archaeologists instead of detectives. However, when the chief pathologist begins to examine the body, she quickly finds that the girl has been dead for only 16 years, not 1,600.

The mystery becomes a puzzling mass of threads, becoming increasingly entangled as it moves along.While Nic and Gianni struggle to find a lead to the missing girl, their boss, Falcone, struggles with the anti-mafia unit and local mobster Emilio Neri. Whatever happened sixteen years ago, at the last celebration of the Liberalia, has twisted emotions and resulted in a storm of revenge. It’s enough to say that Congreve was right when he pronounced, “Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned”.Hewson’s gift lies in character creation.

In a previous book, A Season for the Dead, the author made Luca Rossi a perfect foil for Nic; the same is true here, as he substitutes Peroni for Rossi. Peroni, by any definition, is a crooked cop. Yet he carries an air of stability and decency about him, despite the shady company he keeps; recall Sipowicz in the early years of NYPD Blue. Here the well-worn plot angle of wily veteran mentoring less-experienced partner is carried off with fresh insight.While British writer Hewson’s books may seem too literary for some readers, they are well worth the effort for those willing to take the plunge. Characters as memorable as Nic and Gianni are hard to find in any genre.

The UK magazine Crime Time wrote…

These modern Roman cops are as richly disparate as in any longer-running series (this is Hewson’s second) and the atmosphere is as densely layered as cold lasagne, but I’m trivialising what is, in truth, a beautifully structured and absorbing thriller. The characters polish up as individuals, freshly drawn. The city of Rome, her cops, bureaucrats and criminals, shine hard and clear as sunlight bouncing off the Trevi fountain. But they’re a lot less pretty. And this is tasty stuff.

A four-star review from Ink

…a novel to savour – imagine the deceptively relaxed atmosphere of Donna Leon’s Brunetti novels mixed with the darkness of Ian Rankin’s Rebus sequence. Excellent.

From The Good Book Guide

A riveting tale of revenge brought to life by sharp characterisation and powerful dynamics.