Convoluted if entertaining thriller in which a young Englishman encounters mysterious villains in Venice.
Daniel Forster, not quite 20 and not quite out of Oxford, gets what he considers a dream summer job. It will take him to Venice, a city he’s longed to visit, in order to rescue from colorful disarray the library of the venerable Signor Scacchi, a noted Venetian dealer in antiquities and other things precious. Cataloguing is the way Daniel would have described the task until the lovely Laura, Scacchi’s housekeeper, redefines it for him. Nonsense, she says in her own succinct and no-nonsense way. You’ve been hired “to save us.” How? And from what? wonders smitten Daniel in those moments when he can shake off the spell cast by Laura: a housekeeper, yes, but one extraordinaire, adored by old Signor Scacchi and everyone else in his far from conventional establishment. It’s an establishment under pressure, Daniel soon learns, one teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and in desperate need of a cash infusion. Disconcertingly, then, he realizes that his actual mission is to somehow discover treasure amid the helter-skelter motley of Scacchi’s possessions. And, to his surprise, he succeeds, disinterring a buried violin concerto, magnificent, Vivaldi-like, anonymous, lost since the 18th century. Even more surprising is the discovery that virtually everyone he’s met in Venice has been lying to him—including Scacchi, the adorable Laura, and, perhaps most significantly, a ruthless, heartless fellow Englishman named Hugo Massiter. Like Scacchi, Massiter is a collector, driven, however, by an unhealthy, unsavory Faustian inclination. How all of this results in multiple murders while harking back to a sort of parallel universe more than two and a half centuries earlier is something else Daniel discovers—painfully.
Fun, though judicious cutting would have been helpful. Hewson (A Season for the Dead, 2004, etc.) tends to the overwritten and overstuffed.