Review

The Sacred Cut

by David Hewson



David Hewson is not quite a household name in the United States, at
least not yet. That he will be at some point is, I would submit,
inevitable. THE SACRED CUT, the third book featuring Italian State
Police detective Nic Costa, was released in late December in the
U.S., making 2005 The Year of Hewson by some measurements. THE
VILLA OF MYSTERIES, the second of the Rome novels, and the
paperback of the stand-alone thriller LUCIFER'S SHADOW, were also
published in 2005. Yet the quality of each of these works is such
that one does not feel as if Hewson has oversaturated the market;
indeed, the appetites of readers seem to have been whet for
more.

There are a number of reasons for this. The chief one is that
Hewson, perhaps more than any other contemporary author, has
combined a sense of grand concept --- so popular these days ---
with believable, sympathetic characters who one cares about. This
is particularly true of Nic Costa, who is a composition of
contrasts --- an Italian male who, contrary to stereotypes, is
painfully shy around women; the son of a Communist who is sworn to
uphold the law; and more --- but ultimately is a good man trying to
do the right thing in a cheerfully corrupt environment that
encourages one to go with the polluted flow. These elements,
already sharpened in A SEASON FOR THE DEAD (the first of the Rome
novels) and THE VILLA OF MYSTERIES, are brought into razor-sharp
relief here.

The British publisher of THE SACRED CUT described it as the
breakout crime novel of 2005; just so. As with its predecessors,
the concerns of this book are on the surface local but gradually
coalesce into a much broader environment. It begins with Rome under
siege from a blizzard, the likes of which it has not seen in
decades. The storm implicitly heralds, and impedes, the discovery
of the body of a young woman, the place and manner of her death
made all the more grotesque by the bizarre and horrible mutilation
of her back. Costa and partner Gianni Peroni are assigned to
investigate, but they find their investigation is hampered from the
very beginning by the secretive and ham-handed intervention of the
FBI, to which the Italian authorities all too readily concede.
Costa, however, is not willing to surrender jurisdiction so quickly
(at least unofficially) and the accidental presence of a witness to
the murder sends him and Peroni --- along with some help from a
surprising source --- in pursuit of the murderer.

Costa soon learns that the victim found in Rome is not the first
person murdered in such a manner and that the killer seems to be on
a crazed mission of vengeance that is being carried out all over
the world. There is, of course, the question of why the FBI is so
interested and why its primary agent seems as determined in
thwarting the discovery of the identity of the villain as he is in
stopping the murders.

Hewson is nothing short of marvelous, as always, mixing in
legitimate conclusions with red herrings so that readers and
characters both engagingly stumble along to conclusions that may or
may not be correct. As entertaining as this is, however, nothing
can match Hewson's ability to capture the flavor of Rome --- a
heady stew composed of its people, culture and geography in equal
parts --- so that what we ultimately are favored with is a mystery
steeped in a culture that is contemporaneously familiar and
exotic.

Already Hewson is occasionally --- at a mystery writers'
convention, for one --- receiving the public accolades usually
reserved for more highly visible rock stars. Considering the wide
potential of his fan base, such a reaction is inevitable and
deserved. And THE SACRED CUT is one more reason why. Highly
recommended.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

The Sacred Cut
by David Hewson

  • Publication Date: August 29, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Mass Market Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Dell
  • ISBN-10: 0440242185
  • ISBN-13: 9780440242185