Review

The Villa of Mysteries

by David Hewson



Until a couple of years ago David Hewson was known primarily as a
correspondent for the London Sunday Times. A more rooted,
and smarter, friend of mine who reads that publication regularly
makes Hewson's dispatch his first visit. Hewson's noteworthy
contribution is his ability to make the complex understandable.
This quality has been a hallmark of his novels, which combine
artistic, religious and cultural elements, and send them swirling
through a complex but readily understandable plot peopled by
characters who, while foreign to American readers, easily earn
their empathy. While Hewson's work is firmly rooted in the
tradition of police procedural novels, he refuses to color within
the lines; he instead quietly but firmly redrafts the boundary
lines of the genre, combining poetic prose, exquisite plotting, and
an inexhaustible supply of surprises to create a genre all his
own.

THE VILLA OF MYSTERIES is the successor to 2003's A SEASON FOR THE
DEAD, the second of what Hewson refers to as "The Rome Novels."
Police Detective Nic Costa is back, newly returned to duty after
several months' absence to recover from the death of his father as
well as other events. Costa does not have much time to get his
street legs back. An American couple looking for Roman artifacts in
a peat bog discovers the body of a young woman named Eleanor
Jamieson who vanished almost two decades previously.

The Italian police force and pathologist Teresa Lupo are still
sorting out this discovery when Costa interjects himself into the
middle of a situation in Campo dei Fiori, a crowded tourist
destination. A woman is frantically seeking police assistance,
insisting that her daughter has been abducted. The woman's daughter
bears an uncanny, almost frightening, resemblance to Jamieson ---
and her abduction has occurred nearly 16 years to the day of the
anniversary of Jamieson's disappearance. It appears that both
abductions, and Jamieson's murder, are tied to a cult of the god
Dionysus. The truth, however, is both stranger and simpler than
that.

Costa and Gianni Peroni, his new partner, find themselves in more
of a reactive than a proactive position. It is Lupo who steps
outside of her job description to obtain justice for one long-dead
young woman and to hopefully rescue another. Yet, as the reader and
all concerned discover, nothing is really as it seems. Hewson does
not even attempt to explain the labyrinthine and uneasy connections
between the Italian police and organized crime, and the always
blurry line that is both a line of demarcation and commonality
between the two. But he illustrates it so sharply through anecdotal
description that one comes away with an understanding that is
difficult to articulate yet easy to know.

Hewson does not wait until the end of the novel to begin reigning
in his numerous plot lines. He chooses instead to introduce and
resolve issues from beginning to end, so that at the conclusion of
this magnificent work, there is no sense of a rush to resolution,
even as --- unbeknownst to the reader --- there is much to be
resolved.

But the depth of what Hewson has accomplished goes beyond his
considerable plotting and narrative skills. For what Hewson has
created in THE VILLA OF MYSTERIES may be arguably one of the most
strongly and subtly feminist novels of recent note. Hewson is
nothing less and never less than marvelous throughout THE VILLA OF
MYSTERIES, This is a work, and an author, of unforgettable
stature.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

The Villa of Mysteries
by David Hewson

  • Publication Date: January 25, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Hardcover: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press
  • ISBN-10: 0385337728
  • ISBN-13: 9780385337724