THE GARDEN OF EVIL by David Hewson

11 04 2011

An investigator I have never come across before, and here I am, starting with the sixth in the series. Worse, it is one of those stories that is almost impossible to review without giving away the plot.

It is not HF (historical fiction), it is set in the present day. However, it is apparently a feature of the books in this series that each one looks back to a different period in Rome’s turbulent history. As Rome, more than any other, is a city that lives in the past, that is both natural and inevitable, but the periods we go back to are not the pleasant times, the times of peace.

Which reminds me of the famous Graham Greene quote (from The Third Man): Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

In this case, the past we are looking back to is the time of Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 29 September 1571–18 July 1610), himself wanted for committing murder on the streets of Renaissance Rome. But the deaths that concern our investigator, Nic Costa of the Rome Police, are committed in the very different Rome of the 21st Century – one of them before his very eyes –and the masked killer, taunting the helpless police, makes his escape. Nic chases after him and – I cannot, must not, tell you what happens. All I can say is that it is brilliantly written and grips you from the opening page and will not let you go. I read right through the night, and now, of course, I am looking for more of the same.

LATER: I have now read the first in the series, A Season for the Dead.

I try to avoid the more overused and abused clichés in these reviews, but this is indeed not for the fainthearted. Corruption in the Vatican (are there really cardinals like this one?), corruption in the Rome Police – and that’s before we come to the big banks and the mafia. And young Nic Costa, whose idealistc father is dying, and who is himself trying to maintain some degree of idealism in this world where it seems there are no moral standards and anything goes. And does that also apply to the beautiful young university lecturer he fast falling in love with? Oh, and I forgot to mention some of the most gruesome murders I have ever come across anywhere.

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