Review

Dante’s Numbers

by David Hewson

DANTE’S NUMBERS has already created some stir in certain
quarters. It is the latest of David Hewson’s novels
concerning Rome police detective Nic Costa, but it transports him
to environs far removed from Italy. The controversy that this
change of scenery has created obscures the fact that this is the
author’s best book to date.

The novel opens in Rome on the eve of the world premiere of a film
adaptation of Dante’s INFERNO. The project has not been
without controversy, which the director and producer have welcomed
for the attendant publicity. All of this attention takes a violent
turn, however, when two murders occur. One of the victims is the
male lead in the movie, and the bizarre method of his death is
broadcast live on the Internet. The website from which the airing
of this crime originates has ties to San Francisco, so that the
investigation, led by the heavy-handed Carabinieri officers, is
transferred there. Costa, Leo Falcone, Gianni Peroni and Teresa
Lupo are in tow, due to the fact that Dante’s death mask, on
loan with other Dante-related artifacts from San Francisco’s
Palace of Fine Arts, has gone missing. The Rome police are charged
with guarding the artifacts while they are being returned to San
Francisco, as well as hopefully recovering the missing mask.

Let’s digress for a moment. We have Italian policemen in San
Francisco in a mystery written by a British author. It is this
change of locale that has given rise to the controversy surrounding
DANTE’S NUMBERS. Let me assure you: the setting is perfect.
Just as Hewson has demonstrated a native’s familiarity with
Rome in his previous Costa novels, so too does he “get”
the rhythm and beat of San Francisco without unnecessarily
pandering to its more scatological and controversial elements.
Rather than setting the story in North Beach, for example, he
places his police officers in the Cow Hollow area. This makes
sense, given the location of the Palace of Fine Arts, but it is
also challenging to make it interesting. Hewson meets that
challenge, and then some. Other elements such as the weather, the
manner in which distances can be so deceiving, and one of San
Francisco’s most under-appreciated treasures --- the Mission
Dolores --- are also given proper due.

San Francisco though is primarily a place of the heart, and indeed
neither Falcone nor Costa is immune. Still emotionally reeling from
the murder of his wife, Costa feels the faint stirrings of
attraction for Maggie Flavier. Cast as Dante’s Beatrice in
INFERNO, Flavier first attracts Costa’s eye in Rome. Given
that she is a resident of San Francisco, their paths continue to
cross. It is Costa’s unwillingness to let go of the murder
investigation (and Falcone’s half-hearted attempt to reign
him in) that sends him along San Francisco’s less known and
less traveled roads. When Flavier herself becomes the target of a
poison attack and additional murders occur, Costa continues in
earnest, little knowing how close he and Maggie are to the heart of
the motivation of all that has occurred.

DANTE’S NUMBERS is arguably the most accessible of
Hewson’s works, which is not to say that the plot is
necessarily a simple one. Nor does Hewson fail to inform while
entertaining. Indeed, the ins and outs of film financing, motion
picture history, the differences between a producer and a director,
and a little-known but centuries-old financial version of the game
of “chicken” are all explored here, against the
backdrop of one of the world’s most interesting cities and,
of course, the dip and swirl of romantic relationships. All of this
is done within the context of an elaborate murder mystery, and
exquisitely so. For what more could one reasonably ask?

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 7, 2011

Dante’s Numbers
by David Hewson

  • Publication Date: April 27, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Mass Market Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Dell
  • ISBN-10: 0385341490
  • ISBN-13: 9780385341493