VJ Books Blog

Nic Costa is a police detective in modern Rome. Called to an artist’s studio in the Ortaccio, Rome’s traditional artist’s quarter, Nic finds a horrific scene.

Two people have been brutally killed, a petty thief frequently arrested by Costa, and a woman — a French art critic.

Over the bodies is a painting that appears to be an unknown work by a 17th century master — Caravaggio.

And the painting echoes the murder scene.

The crime scene team discovers other bodies buried in the studio — and the perpetrator is still there, hiding in the building.

Once discovered, the murderer escapes, with Costa in pursuit. In the course of the chase, the suspect escapes, knocking Costa out and killing Costa’s American wife, a former FBI agent.

Thus begins “The Garden of Evil,” the latest David Hewson mystery featuring Nic Costa.

The police procedural takes us through a tour of both renaissance and modern Rome.

The killer, soon known to Costa’s colleagues, proves untouchable.

A member of Rome’s aristocracy, the killer’s wealth and power blocks the police investigation, especially after a sympathetic judge turns rules of evidence on their head, requiring police to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the aristocrat is guilty before permitting the collection of evidence.

Evidence proves hard to collect as witnesses die or disappear.

Attention turns to the painting, which seems linked to the crime.

An art expert called in to examine the painting, Agata Graziono, is a Catholic sister — although as Sister Agata points out, not a nun.

The virtually atheistic Costa does not understand Sister Agata’s calling, but appreciates her expertise in art, which is also one of his interests.

The painting, indeed, proves a lost Cavaragio, and the key to the motivation behind the killings.

The solution for the 21st century crimes has their roots in the early 1600s, when the painting was made.

Sister Agata becomes the target of a hit man, as the killer seeks to eliminate the threat she poses.

The police prove unable to protect Sister Agata, so she mobilizes her own army to checkmate the forces of evil.

Assisted by Costa, she finds a faith-based solution to the killer’s invulnerability.

The Garden of Evil” is a marvelous fusion of history and mystery, one that reminds the reader of historical mysteries by Umberto Eco and Arturo Peréz-Reverte.

Fast-paced and intricate, David Hewson’s novel can be appreciated by both mystery buffs, and history enthusiasts.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian and model-maker, lives in League City.

(Galveston County Daily News,  Jan. 25, Mark Lardas)