My rating: 5 of 5 stars
David Hewson’s Nic Costa series always comes through with an enticing mystery set in atmospheric Italy. In Carnival for the Dead, Nic and his police colleagues are present only in the thoughts of Teresa Lupo, the feisty pathologist who assists on their cases. Teresa’s on her own in this outing, in Venice at the behest of her mother, who is worried about Sofia, her sister and Teresa’s favorite aunt. Sofia has always led a bohemian sort of life, but now seems to have vanished.
Hewson has set this mystery in the midst of Venice’s famed Carnival, and the ambiance couldn’t be more unsettling. She is staying at her aunt’s disheveled flat, and no sooner has she arrived than a thick manuscript is delivered by a neighbor. She spends the evening reading what appears to be a work of fiction about Sofia, in which Teresa is also a character. When she awakens in the morning, the pages are blank.
This is a tour de force sort of novel of stories within stories. It requires careful reading, because after a while it becomes more and more challenging to separate fact from fiction. Most of the people that Teresa meets on the street are in full costume, and the ominous disguise of the Plague Doctor seems the most common. Hewson does a masterful job invoking the spirit of Carnival Venice, where no one can be taken at face value as they wend their way through the dark maze of calle and canals. The ending is sensational, intricately layered with surprises.