Was the death of British academic Malise Gabriel an accident? Falling from the scaffolding around his Rome apartment, his final grim moments are witnessed by Detective Nic Costa.
He also sees the dead man’s distracted son Robert, who fires a gun into the air, along with Gabriel’s daughter, the enigmatic Mina. As he gets to know her, Mina fascinates Costa.
She is precocious, musical and intelligent but refuses to give away what she knows about the death of her father. In fact, the whole family (including the dead man’s widow) are clearly withholding key information.
The case begins to obsess Costa who finds a connection with a grisly 16th-century story of the Italian noblewoman Beatrice Cenci, tortured to death after a sensational trial. Costa finds himself more and more involved in what turns out to be a very Roman mystery.
This latest novel in David Hewson’s Italian-set crime sequence is as vivid and engaging as ever. His Roman copper, the unshakeable Nic Costa, is the perfect guide to one of the most atmospherically rendered cities in current crime fiction. Reading The Fallen Angel might have you planning your own trip to Rome.
A variety of British and American novelists have set their books in Italy, notably Donna Leon and the late Michael Dibdin, whose Zen books have recently enjoyed TV adaptations. Hewson is ahead of the pack in this country-hopping band, mainly because his ambitions clearly stretch beyond the parameters of standard crime fiction.
The historical detail concerning the tragic Beatrice is particularly fascinating and Hewson ties it into the modern narrative skilfully.
A young man who has had the certainties of belief torn away from him, Costa has little time for either the church or politics. He finds his purpose in life is the pursuit of justice and that is at the very heart of The Fallen Angel, more so than crime and its consequences.
It is also a strong ensemble piece, with his police colleagues as fully developed as the central character.
All of this bodes well for the forthcoming TV adaptations which have the advantage of working from strong material. The Fallen Angel is one of the best, a novel steeped in Italy’s bloody and dangerous past.
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