In the latest from Hewson (City of Fear, 2010, etc.), Sovrintendente Nic Costa of the Questura in Rome must cope with three enigmatic young women, one of them dead since 1599.
In Shelley’s poem, Beatrice Cenci was lovely, virginal and only 17 when she achieved martyrdom. On orders from the Vatican, her head was hacked off. There are, it’s true, skeptics, flinty revisionists who insist she was 22 and that virginal overstates the case. What seems irrefutable, however, is that for reasons unabashedly political she was tortured into admitting complicity in the murder of her father—albeit, a brutally abusive father—and summarily executed, becoming, for Romans at least, then and thereafter unforgettable. Some four centuries plus a decade or so later, ace detective Nic Costa encounters Mina Gabriel in circumstances that eerily recall the sad, old Beatrice story. Her father has just plunged to his death from a suddenly collapsed balcony, a collapse perhaps criminally engineered, and if in fact it was, it’s possible to believe in a complicit Mina. Moreover, the fatal fall ended on the pavement of the Via Beatrice Cenci, causing an immediate media frenzy, compounded by the persona of Mina herself: 17, exquisite, reliably reputed to be as virginal as Shelley’s heroine, and no less justified in parricide, given an unspeakably abusive father. But it’s all too pat, decides Costa, a bit later than he ordinarily might have were it not for the distraction embodied in the unexpected reappearance in his life of beautiful Agata Graziano. She’s left the convent. Gone is the somber garment that served as an impenetrable barrier between them, and now there’s a message in her eyes. But he can’t read it. And it just might be that she doesn’t want him to.A bit overplotted, but as always the writing is superior, and the characters engage.