Having read (full disclosure: listened via Audible) to David Hewson’s Shakespeare adaptations, I was enthused with the chance to jump into his Nic Costa crime series. As a fan of Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen series, I was completely ready for a full-on Trevi fountain immersion, gelato well in hand. Instead, A Season for the Dead is a bumbling read, both in style and substance. Instead of splashing in the sun, I was soaked in the Tiber with grappa splashed in my face. Not quite the expected Roman crime experience.
The story starts interestingly enough with the introduction of semi-rookie detective Nic Costa, which is a refreshing turn as many genre mainstays are either grizzled vets (Harry Bosch) or well-established top-of-their-gamers, like the aforementioned Zen. Yet as a rook, Costa is not particularly charming or even especially talented. He’s good police, but a flat character. Truly makes me wonder how a full series is based around the dude. Maybe the fun of future installments is seeing him develop? I’m afraid to bear witness as I’m not certain I have the patience for ten books of self-doubt, incorrect questioning, and juvenile anger.
A Season for the Dead focuses on a serial killer running within and around the Vatican recreating the deaths of key Christian martyrs (admittedly, a cool concept) and a corrupt cardinal apparently doing more than taking confessions behind that curtain. Costa and his fit-for-retirement partner Rossi catch the case, one that is out of their depth. Sara Farnese, a unique femme fatale who is caught in the center of the maelstrom, isn’t helping. Rossi is wary of her; Costa attracted.
Hewson never allows the reader to play the guessing game, to try out their Poirot mustache or Holmes pipe. Instead, details are fed at an unusual pace, and are often times repetitive.
Hewson has an odd writing style, particularly the dialogue, which comes across grammatically-challenged, almost as if the narrative was written in Italian and run through Google Translate prior to publication. The crime genre has a built-in cadence, be it procedural, movie-scripted, or full-on noir. A Season for the Dead is almost attempting to be high-literature but falls into a number of potholes making the read a bumpy ride. Certain plot points are never realized. The ending is rushed.
The reader, however, is provided a grand tour of the city. I haven’t been to Rome since college and am desperately seeking a return. I’m wary if that will come through Hewson installments.
Thank you to NetGalley and Black Thorn Books for the Roman holiday.