When political activists in Venice kidnap a 16-year-old American girl and stream increasingly disturbing images of her mistreatment, Carabinieri captain Kat Tapo and U.S. Army investigator Holly Boland must unravel a web of secrets to recover her.
The girl, Mia, is the daughter of a U.S. Army major. The videos of her being stripped naked, slapped, sleep-deprived and worse are accompanied by quotes from official U.S. policy defining these actions as being within the scope of international law. When her abductors take over the popular, ultrasecret virtual world of Carnivia, a superdetailed 3-D simulation of Venice where people meet through avatars, it's left to Daniele Barbo, the young and scarred genius who invented it, to devise a trap for them. At the same time, Col. Aldo Piola of the Venice police—the married man with whom Holly had an affair in the previous novel—is investigating suspicious human remains near the site of a planned American military installation. Ultimately, the case of the political kidnaping overlaps with the case of the old bones, pointing back to postwar plots involving the red threat, the Vatican and nuclear arms. Holt is in greater control of the plot than he was in The Abomination (2013), the melodramatic first installment of a trilogy, which revolved around American involvement in Bosnia. Here, he doesn't stray too far from believability, tossing in interesting bits of history (and a quote from Noam Chomsky) and keeping the stories moving.
Holt's cyberunderworld doesn't exert quite the fascination it did the first time, and the lead characters aren't as engaging. But this stylish if overlong book holds out promise for a satisfying finale.