The publication of a new Nic Costa novel by David Hewson is an annual reminder of all of the elements that contribute to the joy of reading. The books that comprise the series are smart, original and riveting. Their unifying theme --- other than, of course, their memorable primary and supporting casts --- is that the past informs and shapes our present in ways obvious and otherwise. And while each and all are properly and accurately classified as mysteries (highly complex ones) and thrillers (of the literary sort, relying only secondarily on explosions and bloodletting), Hewson never loses sight of the human condition as his narrative expertly slices into and out of the lives of his characters and the situations that their interactions create.
Nic Costa is one of the more quietly intriguing characters in genre fiction. A Rome police sovrintendente who is the son of a late, well-known Communist, Costa is no stranger to either dark tragedy or subdued triumph. While the series nominally features an ensemble cast of characters, it is Costa who remains first among equals and, yes, superiors, as he navigates the cesspool of Italian politics with a quiet deftness in a system that often impedes the apprehension of criminals. History plays an important part in CITY OF FEAR as in the other Costa novels. Rome, being one of the world’s greatest and ancient cities, has provided a broad canvas for Hewson with which to paint and play. Yet it is Rome’s more recent past that figures prominently in the novel.
CITY OF FEAR opens on the eve of the G8 conference, with the world’s leaders assembling in a Rome that is uneasy with and ill-suited for a conference of this magnitude. Security for the event is immediately and violently breached, apparently by the Blue Demon, an enigmatic terrorist individual or organization first introduced into Rome in the early years of the latter half of the 20th century. Taking its name from an ancient Etruscan entity, the Blue Demon intends to disrupt the conference through abductions and terrorists acts. After the initial terrorist act, the city goes into lockdown, threatening the livelihood of the Roman citizens and the future of the conference.
Costa, initially lacking jurisdiction in the matter, is asked to conduct a clandestine investigation by Italian president Dario Sordi, a former colleague of Costa’s late father. Sordi is locked in an ongoing power struggle with Ugo Campagnolo, the Italian Prime Minister who recklessly invited the Summit to Rome. Sordi is now charged with controlling the mess that Campagnolo created. When Costa and his team dig into the history of the Blue Demon’s origin in search of a trail to bring the Blue Demon down, they discover discrepancies in the record that may well affect the present government and that points to a larger conspiracy with roots in Rome and beyond. As always, Costa lets the evidence take him where it may, and he is well-matched by his professional colleagues who are of similar independent mind. As with other volumes in the series, CITY OF FEAR is complete in itself, but by story’s end, enough has changed to provide welcome grist for yet another highly anticipated new volume.
No one is writing books quite like these --- books set in an exotic yet deceptively familiar site that combine elements of history, politics, and mystery in equal and exotic dollops that produce something unique and different each time while utilizing ingredients familiar and otherwise. CITY OF FEAR is a welcome addition to a series worth reading and revisiting on a regular basis.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 27, 2010