David Hewson

A Season for the Dead

""...a fast-paced denouement that grips the reader..." "


Sara Farnese, an expert in early Christianity, is in the Vatican reading room during a searing heat wave, studying a 10th century copy of a Roman cookery book. Not her usual reading matter, but she wants to make an authentic Roman meal for her lover, Hugh Fairchild, who is arriving from London that day. But at that point a crazed professor bursts into the reading room and throws something on the desk before her. It is the skin of a human being - that self-same Hugh Fairchild. The professor is then shot dead by a member of the Swiss Guard.

This is the beginning of a spate of murders in Rome. Nic Costa, a young police detective, is brought in to investigate. Soon Rome is gripped by a series of murders, each death mimicking the death of a Christian martyr, and Nic, to begin with, appears out of his depth. Meanwhile, corrupt Cardinal Michael Denney, who lives in the Vatican, is discovering that the church is about to disown him. He is a womaniser and a manipulator of vast sums of illegal money, and he is on his way out.

Nic soon discovers that Sara is the key to the whole spate of murders, as she knew all the victims. Will she too become a victim?

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This is the first in the Nic Costa crime books, and was previously published in 2004. The book is not a whodunit, as the name of the murderer, and the murderer's modus operandi, are revealed early on. The mystery lies in why the murders mirror the gruesome deaths of Christian martyrs. Nic is 27 years old, unconventional, and makes mistakes, which is refreshing. He also has a complicated relationship with his father, an old-time Communist, and this has shaped his own character. Sara is complicated as well, and in fact is something of an enigma. Is she holding back on something? Does she know more than she's letting on? Nic's relationship with his father is gone into in some detail, mainly through dialogue, though there are places where an edit could have slimmed this down without losing any of the impact or subtle nuances of the relationship. But, speaking for myself, I will forgive this, as the book, as a whole, is a rattling good thriller set in a city that Hewson obviously knows well. The denouement of the book takes place as the heat wave breaks, and rain lashes down. It's a fast-paced denouement that grips the reader and, in my case, made me eager to read more of this series.

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