Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Venetian Mystery: Carnival of the Dead

Carnival of the Dead
Author David Hewson
It’s February, and Carnival time in Venice. Bright blue skies and freezing temperatures welcome Teresa Lupo, forensic pathologist to the Rome Questura, to the city. She is greeted off the vaporetto by an anonymous masked man dressed as The Plague Doctor. Teresa has taken time out from her job to find her beloved bohemian aunt Sofia who has mysteriously disappeared. There seem to be no clues as to her whereabouts, but a visit to Sofia’s very strange apartment in the Dorsoduro confirms Teresa’s suspicions that all is not well. The puzzle deepens when a letter reveals a piece of fiction in which both Sofia and Teresa appear. Even more strange, are the links to Venetian culture which gradually begin to surface. Are the messages being sent by Sofia herself? Her abductor? Or a third party seeking to help her unravel the mystery? The revelation when it comes is as surprising and shocking as Sofia’s fate. And Teresa herself comes to depend upon the unravelling of a mystery wrapped deep inside the art and culture of Venice itself.
Review: Hewson exquisitely crafts the characters in Carnival of the Dead with the up-most care making them smartly complimentary to the the city of Venice.  Besides the mystery and intrigue, what I found most enduring about the novel was the way in which Hewson captures and conveys the city itself. Venice is undeniably unique and the people, strangely separate from the rest of the country, an island if you will, alone and breathing independently, but begrudgingly dependent at the same time. I can't say with any certainty whether readers who haven't spent time in Venice will be as moved as those who have. However, I devoured every word and description because the honesty and depiction was astonishingly accurate. My favorite stylistic liberty was the resenting undertones by the locals for anything and anyone despite the obviously necessity for their existence to thrive. Any visitor to the city must forgive this harshness and in fact, soon come to accept the eccentricities.  Any place else, this would never be tolerated, but in Venice...well, it becomes part of the art, landscape and charm of the place.  Where else can it be romantic to beg for service, apologize for disturbing the help to make a purchase and wonder how a city supposedly packed with tourists can virtually become a sinister shadow when the sun goes down? The streets are empty, the stores and restaurants closed, and if you're hoping for a club, well, only the locals know where to go after dark. Venice is a mask and you will likely find yourself chasing shadows around corners, down alleys and landing at dead ends if you try to out smart the city. A map and logic will do you know good, much like in the story. You must simply concede and hope that with some luck, you will discover what you set out to find. Nothing demonstrates this point better than Hewson's insertion of stories as clues by a mysterious friend.  At first, it might seem distracting or disjointed, but they serve a purpose in this cat and mouse tale.   
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* ARC provided by Thomas & Mercer courtesy of Amazon Vine


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