David Hewson is already well-known overseas as a writer with the ability to craft extremely intelligent novels that at once viscerally entertain and intellectually challenge. While he is relatively unknown in the United States, the publication of A SEASON FOR THE DEAD will change that status for him, and do so immediately.
A SEASON FOR THE DEAD begins in the Reading Room of The Vatican. Sara Farnese is an attractive, enigmatic scholar whose field of study is early Christianity. Her tranquil examination of an ancient document is violently disturbed when a colleague, and former lover, bursts into the library waving a gun, dumps a grisly trophy of a violent crime on her desk, and repeats a puzzling quotation before he is shot dead by Vatican guards. Two bodies are subsequently found in a nearby church. Detective Nic Costa of the Italian police is one of the investigators on the case, a riveting, complex character who is a student of the painter Caravaggio and the son of a famous Italian Communist.
Costa is almost immediately drawn to Farnese. The attraction becomes all the more intense when subsequent murders begin to occur throughout Rome, each act replicating the martyrdom of a saint and each victim having an intimate tie to Farnese. Costa becomes infatuated with Farnese in spite of himself, knowing that Farnese is not telling what she knows about the murders and the victims. In order to find the killer, Costa must unravel a pattern of deceit, dishonesty and treachery that leads into the heart of the Vatican itself, a city nation that has its own layers of quiet duplicity.
Hewson is one of those writers with a fine eye for background detail, and his ability to detail the machinations of the delicate balance between Rome and Vatican City while describing the churches, thoroughfares and people who have earned Rome the title of "The Eternal City" is quietly breathtaking. Hewson additionally possesses two rare abilities. The first is the ability to take his reader through an increasingly complex plot step by step with a minimum of confusion and puzzlement. One could be totally unfamiliar with the Vatican and the early history of the Roman Catholic Church and still feel comfortable with the progression of A SEASON FOR THE DEAD. Hewson also renders comprehensible the history and the scandal of Banca Lombardia in a few pages, a feat that some writers have been unable to accomplish within an entire book! Hewson's other major ability is his penchant for creating strong secondary characters who do not overwhelm the protagonist(s), but instead assist in moving the story along. The result is a tale that is a dark delight, a story that one is compelled to read at one sitting while simultaneously wishing it will never end.
There have been some comparisons between A SEASON FOR THE DEAD and THE DA VINCI CODE. I suppose that some comparison is inevitable, given that A SEASON FOR THE DEAD deals to some extent with the Roman Catholic Church and paintings that are linked to a series of murders in Rome. Such comparisons are ultimately unfair to both books, particularly to A SEASON FOR THE DEAD, which can certainly stand alone and be judged on its own considerable merits.
The sequel to A SEASON FOR THE DEAD is about to be published in Europe, and several more volumes in the series are planned. The introduction of Nic Costa to these shores, while overdue, is most welcome, and will undoubtedly herald the success of future novels from Hewson involving Costa and the Italian police.
A Season for the Dead