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Friday, 20 January 2012

‘Carnival for the Dead’ by David Hewson

Published by MacMillan,
6th January 2012.
ISBN: 978-0-230-75593-2

Receiving a somewhat cryptic note form her Aunt Sofia, and being unable to reach her by telephone for several days, Teresa Lupo travels from Rome where she is a Forensic pathologist, to Venice.  Teresa is surprised that on hearing about the strange note her mother Chiara should instantly decide to accompany her.  It is February, and Venice is in the grip of carnival fever and experiencing freezing temperatures. 

Arriving at Sofia's apartment in the Dorsodura they find no clues to her disappearance, nothing but mess - so where is Sofia? What has happened to her?  The situation brings forth from Chiara a startling revelation about Sofia's past that re-focuses Teresa’s view of her beloved Aunt – although, a painter of mediocrity, a writer still writing the book she started some twenty years ago, she was always vibrant and on the move, living in exotic places.  Is this the real Sofia?  An anonymous letter delivered to Teresa by Camilla, the girl living in the apartment below Sofia’s, appears to be a work of fiction but it is puzzling in that both Teresa and Sofia feature in the story, together with an Englishman called Aitchison. The bunch of flowers accompanying the letter she assumes are from her partner Peroni, currently on a police assignment in Sicily and out of contact.

Teresa’s arrival in Venice has not gone unnoticed and she is contacted by Alberto Tosi, a retired pathologist she had come to know on an earlier visit to Venice* with an invitation to be his guest at the carnival that day.  The first day of the carnival is ‘The Flight of the Angel’ and on route to the police to report her aunt missing Teresa and Tosi become caught up in the masses of people attending the carnival, and they are witness to a death.

The Venice police are pleasant but Teresa feels sure that with the carnival and the spectacular death taking up much police time, little will be done to find her aunt. To whom can she turn for help in what is becoming more puzzling by the hour, as she receives more anonymous stories – are they from Sofia?, or the person who is holding her? Or is Sofia dead?  

The story is told third person by Teresa Lupo, but also by the anonymous story teller, who weaves a tale that may or may not be the truth.  This is not just a mystery of today but takes the reader back into the history of Venice. I was utterly captivated by the cryptic clues in the  anonymous stories that weave their own mythical tale. The clues are all there but the interpretation needs an insight into the history of Venice.  This is a book with a surface mystery that you want to solve, but more interestingly will invoke a need to know more of the history that surrounds this mystery.  I can only liken it to the interest I developed when I read for the first time ‘Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey and ‘The King’s General’ by Daphne Du Maurier.  Both had me delving deep into the history books. 

If you have visited Venice this book will evoke the memories of your visit to the city, the bright lights, the restaurant’s and gaiety, and then, turning into a square, or sometimes a small courtyard, and hitting deep silence - tall buildings where no lights show, the signs of poverty and neglect, and the feeling that you are maybe being watched.  If you have never visited Venice, reading this book you will know you must go, and soon.

David Hewson has been described as one of the finest crime writers, and after reading this book I have to agree. If you only read one book this year, make it this one.
Lizzie Hayes
* See The Lizard’s Bite

David Hewson was born in Yorkshire in 1953 and left school at the age of seventeen to work as a cub reporter on one of the smallest evening newspapers in the country in Scarborough. Eight years later he was a staff reporter on The Times in London, covering news, business and latterly working as arts correspondent. He then worked on the launch of the Independent and was a weekly columnist for the Sunday Times for a decade before giving up journalism entirely in 2005 to focus on writing fiction.  He is the bestselling author of nineteen books published in more than twenty languages. His popular Costa contemporary crime series is now in development for a series of movies in Rome.
For more information visit his web site

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