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  • Written by David Hewson
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  • Written by David Hewson
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Written by David HewsonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by David Hewson

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On Sale: March 30, 2004
Pages: 352 | ISBN: 978-0-440-33484-2
Published by : Delacorte Press Bantam Dell
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

In a hushed Vatican Reading Room, the scene is shocking: a crazed professor shot dead after brandishing evidence of a grisly crime. Moments later, two bodies are found in a nearby church, each with a gruesome calling card from their killer.

Detective Nic Costa is one of the first on the scene. A cop who barely looks his twenty-seven years, Nic soon meets a woman who will dominate both his thoughts—and his investigation. A cool, beautiful professor of early Christianity, Sara Farnese was in the Vatican Library on that fateful day, a witness to her colleague’s outburst and grotesque death.

And as more bodies are found, her role becomes even more baffling…because each victim had intimately known Sara, a woman whose history becomes more lurid and unfathomable with each revelation. Until the case takes a sudden, strange turn—and the secrets of a woman, a killer, and a city begin to unravel…with devastating consequences….

Excerpt

Chapter One


The heat was palpable, alive. Sara Farnese sat at her desk in the Reading Room of the Vatican Library and stared out of the window, out into the small rectangular courtyard, struggling to concentrate. The fierce August afternoon placed a rippling, distorting mirage across her view. In the unreal haze, the grass was a yellow, arid mirror of the relentless sun. It was now two o'clock. Within an hour the temperature beyond the glass would hit one hundred four degrees. She should have left like everyone else. Rome in August was an empty furnace echoing to the whispers of desiccated ghosts. That morning, the university corridors on the other side of the city rang to her lone footsteps. It was one reason she decided to flee elsewhere. Half the shops and the restaurants were closed. The only life was in the parks and the museums, where stray groups of sweating tourists tried to find some meager shade.

This was the worst of the summer. Yet she had decided to stay. She knew why and she wondered if she were a fool. Hugh Fairchild was visiting from London. Handsome Hugh, clever Hugh, a man who could rattle off from memory the names of every early Christian Codex lodged in the museums of Europe, and had probably read them too. If the plane was on time he would have arrived at Fiumicino at ten that morning and, by now, have checked into his suite at the Inghilterra. It was too early for him to stay with her, she knew that, and pushed from her head the idea that there could be other names in his address book, other candidates for his bed. Hugh was an intensely busy man. He would be in Rome for five days, of which two nights alone were hers, then move on to a lawyers' conference in Istanbul.

It was, she thought, possible that he had other lovers. No, probable. He lived in London, after all. He had abandoned academia to become a successful career civil servant with the EU. Now he seemed to spend one week out of every four on the road, to Rome, to New York, to Tokyo. They met, at most, once a month. He was thirty-five, handsome in a way that was almost too perfect. He had a long, muscular, tanned body, a warm, aristocratic English face, always ready to break into a smile, and a wayward head of blond hair. It was unthinkable that he did not sleep with other women, perhaps at first meeting. That was, she recalled with a slight sensation of guilt, what had happened to her at the convention on the preservation of historical artifacts in Amsterdam four months before.

Nor did it concern her. They were both single adults. He was meticulously safe in his lovemaking. Hugh Fairchild was a most organized man, one who entered her life and left it at irregular intervals which were to their mutual satisfaction. That night they would eat in her apartment close to the Vatican. They would cross the bridge by the Castel Sant'Angelo, walk the streets of the centro storico and take coffee somewhere. Then they would return to her home around midnight, where he would stay until the morning, when meetings would occupy him for the next two days. This was, she thought, an ample provision of intellectual activity, pleasant company and physical fulfillment. Enough to keep her happy. Enough, a stray thought said, to quell the doubts.

She tried to focus on the priceless manuscript sitting on the mahogany desk by the window. This was a yellow volume quite unlike those Sara Farnese normally examined in the Vatican Reading Room: a tenth-century copy of De Re Coquinaria, the famed imperial Roman cookery book by Apicius from the first century a.d. She would make him a true Roman meal: isicia omentata, small beef fritters with pine kernels, pullus fiusilis, chicken stuffed with herbed dough, and tiropatinam, a soufflé with honey. She would explain that they were eating in because it was August. All the best restaurants were closed. This was not an attempt to change the status of their relationship. It was purely practical and, furthermore, she enjoyed cooking. He would understand or, at the very least, not object.

"Apicius?" asked a voice from behind, so unexpected it made her shudder.

She turned to see Guido Fratelli smiling at her with his customary doggedness. She tried to return the friendly look though she was not pleased to see him. The Swiss Guard always headed for her whenever she visited. Guido knew-or had learned-enough of her work in the library to be able to strike up a conversation. He was about her own age, running a little to fat, and liked the blue, semimedieval uniform and the black leather gun holster a little too much. As a quasicop he had no power beyond the Vatican, and only the quieter parts of that. The Rome police retained charge of St. Peter's Square, which was, in truth, the only place the law was usually needed. And they were a different breed, nothing like this quiet, somewhat timorous individual. Guido Fratelli would not last a day trying to hustle the drunks and addicts around the Termini Station.

"I didn't hear you come in," Sara said, hoping he took this as a faint reproach. The Reading Room was empty apart from her. She appreciated the quiet; she did not want it broken by conversation.

"Sorry." He patted the gun on his belt, an unconscious and annoying gesture. "We're trained to be silent as a mouse. You never know."

"Of course," she replied. If Sara recalled correctly, there had been three murders in the Vatican in the course of almost two hundred years: in 1988, when the incoming commander of the Swiss Guard and his wife were shot dead by a guard corporal harboring a grudge, and in 1848, when the Pope's prime minister was assassinated by a political opponent. With the city force taking care of the crowds in the square, the most Guido Fratelli had to worry about was an ambitious burglar.

"Not your usual stuff?" he asked.

"I've wide-ranging interests."

"Me too." He glanced at the page. The volume had come in its customary box, with the name in big, black letters on the front, which was how he knew what she was reading. Guido was always hunting for conversational footholds, however tenuous. Perhaps he thought that was a kind of detective work. "I'm learning Greek you know."

"This is Latin. Look at the script."

His face fell. "Oh. I thought it was Greek you looked at. Normally."

"Normally." She could see the distress on his face and couldn't help being amused. He was thinking: I have to try to learn both?

"Maybe you could tell me how I'm doing sometime?"

She tapped the notebook computer onto which she had transcribed half the recipes she wanted.

"Sometime. But not now, Guido. I'm busy."

The desk was at right angles to the window. She looked away from him, into the garden again, seeing his tall, dark form in the long window. Guido was not going to give up easily.

"Okay," he said to her reflection in the glass, then walked off, back down to the entrance. She heard laughter through the floor from the long gallery above. The tourists were in, those who had sufficient influence to win a ticket to these private quarters. Did they understand how lucky they were? Over the last few years, both as part of her role as a lecturer in early Christianity at the university and for purely personal pleasure, she had spent more and more time in the library, luxuriating in the astonishing richness of its collection. She had touched drawings and poems executed in Michelangelo's own hand. She had read Henry VIII's love letters to Anne Boleyn and a copy of the same king's Assertio Septem Sacramentorum, signed by the monarch, which had won Henry the title "Defender of the Faith" and still failed to keep him in the Church.

From a professional point of view it was the early works-the priceless codices and incunabula-which were the focus of her attention. Even so, she was unable to prevent herself stealing a glance at the material from the Middle Ages on. In a sense, she felt she had listened to Petrarch and Thomas Aquinas in person. Their voices remained, like dead echoes on the dry vellum and the ancient stain of ink they had left on the page. These traces made them human and, for all their wisdom, for all their skill with words, without their humanity they were nothing, though Hugh Fairchild would probably disagree.

There was a noise from the entrance, a half shout, not loud in itself but, given the setting, disturbing. No one ever shouted in the Reading Room of the Vatican Library.

Sara raised her head and was surprised to see a familiar figure walking toward her. He moved briskly through the bands of sharp light that fell through the window, with a swift, determined intent that seemed out of place in these surroundings, wrong. The air-conditioning rose in volume. A chill blanket of air fell over her and she shivered. She looked again. Stefano Rinaldi, a fellow professor at the university, carried a large, bulging plastic bag and was crossing the empty Reading Room with a determined stride. There was an expression on his round, bearded face which she failed to recognize: anger or fear or a combination of both. He was wearing his customary black shirt and black trousers but they were disheveled and there were what looked like wet stains on both. His eyes blazed at her.

For no reason, Sara Farnese felt frightened of this man whom she had known for some time.

"Stefano . . ." she said softly, perhaps so quietly he was unable to hear.

The commotion was growing behind him. She saw figures waving their arms, beginning to race after the man in black with the strange, full supermarket bag dangling from his right hand. And from his left, she saw now, something even odder: what appeared to be a gun, a small black pistol. Stefano Rinaldi, a man she had never known to show anger, a man for whom she once felt a measure of attraction, was walking purposefully across the room in her direction holding a gun, and nothing she could imagine, no possible sequence of events, could begin to explain this.

She reached over, placed both hands on the far side of the desk and swung it around ninety degrees. The old wood screeched on the marble floor like an animal in pain. She heaved at the thing until her back was against the glass and the desk was tight against her torso, not questioning the logic: that she must remain seated, that she must face this man, that this ancient desk, with a tenth-century copy of a Roman recipe book and a single notebook computer on it, would provide some protection against the unfathomable threat that was approaching her.

Then, much more swiftly than she expected, he was there, gasping for breath above her, that crazy look more obvious than ever in his dark brown eyes.

He sat down in the chair opposite and peered into her face. She felt her muscles relax, if only a little. At that moment, Sara was unafraid. He was not there to harm her. She understood that with an absolute certainty that defied explanation.

"Stefano . . ." she repeated.

There were shapes gathering behind him. She could see Guido Fratelli among them. She wondered how good he was with his gun and whether, by some unfortunate serendipity, she might die that day from the stray bullet of an inexperienced Swiss Guard with a shaking hand that pointed the gun at a former lover of hers who had, for some reason, gone mad in the most venerated library in Rome.

Stefano's left arm, the one holding the weapon, swept the table, swept everything on it, the precious volume of Apicius, her expensive computer, down to the hard marble floor with a clatter.

She was silent, waiting, which was, his eyes seemed to say, what he wanted.

Then Stefano lifted up the bag to the height of the desk, turned it upside down, let the contents fall onto the table and said, in a loud, commanding voice that was half insane, half dead, " 'The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.' "

She looked at the thing in front of her. It had the consistency of damp new vellum, as if it had just been rinsed. Apicius would have written on something very like this once it was dry.

Still holding the gun with his left hand, Stefano began to unravel the pliable thing before her, stretching it, extending the strange fabric until it filled the broad mahogany top of the desk then flowed over the edges, taking as it did a shape that was both familiar and, in its present context, utterly foreign.

Sara forced her eyes to remain open, forced herself to think hard about what she was seeing. The object which Stefano Rinaldi was unfolding, smoothing out so carefully with the flat palm of his right hand as if it were a tablecloth perhaps, on show for sale, was the skin of a human being, a light skin somewhat tanned, and wet, as if it had been recently washed. It had been cut roughly from the body at the neck, genitals, ankles and wrist, with a final slash down the spine and the back of the legs in order to remove it as a whole piece and Sara had to fight to stop herself reaching out to touch the thing, just to make certain this was not some nightmare, just to know.
David Hewson|Author Q&A

About David Hewson

David Hewson - A Season for the Dead

Photo © Mark Bothwell

David Hewson is the author of eleven novels. Formerly a weekly columnist for the Sunday Times, he lives in Kent, England, where he is at work on his next crime novel, The Fallen Angel.

Author Q&A

A Season for the Dead crosses several genres. It is a novel of suspense, as the Italian police attempt to stop a serial killer. It is a psychological novel that slowly gives up clues as to the killer's motivation. It is, in some ways, a historical novel, as the reader is given a guided tour through the Roman churches and the paintings within which motivate and inspire the killer. It is a love story about the bittersweet romance between policeman Nic Costas and the enigmatic Sara Farnese. What was your inspiration for this novel? Did you know where it was headed from the start? Or how it would twist and turn?

The idea for A Season for the Dead came into my head when I was in Rome one very hot August editing the final draft of my Venice novel, Lucifer's Shadow. When I wasn’t sweating – literally – over the computer, I wandered around the very local part of Rome where I was staying and was struck by the very vivid – ghoulish frankly – depictions of martyrdoms on some of the small, early churches there. It prompted the question: Why does a religion based around love need such violent images? And with the success of Mel Gibson’s "Passion" I guess it’s not an entirely historical question either. I also wanted to write another cop story, this time with a cop who was totally against type: good, young, fit, optimistic, and trying to do the right thing. The two married up somewhere. For me, the core of the novel is Nic’s attempt to define what it is to lead a good life, at a time when he’s dreading the loss of his father and facing the horrors of these crimes and his destructive relationship with Sara. I always know the eventual destination of a novel but the journey there is a little like a ride on London Transport: You're aware of where you’re headed but you’re never quite sure how or when you’re going to get there. Writing has to be a journey of discovery for me too, one in which the characters dictate some of the moves, otherwise I’d be bored stiff.

A Season for the Dead is set in Rome. You demonstrate an intimate familiarity with the city, yet we understand that you were only there for a week for research! What did your research involve? What sparked your fascination with Rome?

No, there was much, much more research than just that first week. I spend a couple of months in Rome each year, partly to go to language college there. It’s a wonderful city, one I never tire of. Research for me consists of walking endless streets, making endless notes, then trying to tie them together in the imagination into a story. You need to keep a tight rein on research. These works are fiction, and I really believe they shouldn’t get bogged down in, say, how many minutes it really takes to walk from the Piazza Navona to the Campo dei Fiori. Classical history has fascinated me since I was a kid, though. The back story to these books is a serious and I think a current one. These are decent cops trying to work out how to do good in a society where goodness isn’t much valued by society at large, a very 21st century dilemma, I think. Rome being the home of law as we know it makes it an apposite place to set such tales. The food’s pretty good too!

Nic Costa admires Caravaggio's work. What made you decide to give Costa this particular interest? Were you already an admirer of this artist?

I wanted Nic to be different, as I said earlier. I hate clichés and preconceptions. The idea that every Italian cop is lazy, fat and ignorant is just plain wrong. I know enough people in Rome to be able to say there’s a different generation out there, of young men and women who don’t think the old ways. A lot of young Romans, for example, are vegetarians, as Nic is. I wanted him to stand out, and giving him the Caravaggio interest and that odd dad helped ram home the point. And yes – Caravaggio is a stunning artist, and one who’s brilliantly displayed in Rome, often in the original locations, if you look carefully. He was also asking a lot of awkward questions about the real meaning of religion that still have a modern resonance, which is why the patricians in the Vatican hated him so much.

Much of A Season for the Dead revolves around The Vatican. The first death occurs there; much of the impetus of the story has its origin in the Banca Lombardia scandal; and the status of Vatican City as a sovereign city state within the city of Rome both impedes and propels the investigation. How did you research the Vatican's inner workings?

Now that is easy. You just read. There are any number of books out there depicting the workings of the Vatican. And the Calvi scandal, which is still unresolved – the ‘suicide’ is now officially a murder – shows there are probably many more tales to be told, too.

We understand that A Season for the Dead is the first of a series of what you are calling "The Rome Series." The second novel in the series, The Villa of Mysteries, will be published in the U.S. in Spring '05, and you have a third, The Sacred Cut, finished and scheduled for publication by Delacorte in Fall '05. Can you tell us a bit about those books? Is The Rome Series open-ended, or do you have a definite number of novels in mind?

The second book in a series needs to look forward and lay down the foundations for enough interest to stretch beyond a couple of titles. My way of tackling this was to extend the character range, so there’s a lot of Nic in The Villa of Mysteries, but also much more of that lovely mad pathologist Teresa Lupo, a new cop, Gianni Peroni, and further development of Leo Falcone. At the end of the book I think we begin to see there’s the making of something unusual there: a team based on mutual respect of each other, and mutual dislike for the state of the world. In my own small way I’m trying to break a little new ground with this series. For me, a lot of crime fiction breaks down into two categories, both of which are fine but come under the heading of ‘books I don’t want to write’. ‘Bloodless crime’ is the classic Agatha Christie-style tale in which people get murdered but murder is a catalyst to an intellectual puzzle. They’re not really dead; sometimes they’re not that alive in the first place. That was OK fifty years ago when violent crime was rare and outside the experience of most of us. Today we all know victims. Some of us even know people who’ve been murdered. I couldn’t write bloodless crime in that environment; I’d feel I was insulting the true victims.

The other school is what I think of as ‘tough guy crime’. This posits a world which is neatly divided between good and bad, and all the good people need to win is the right man and the right hardware. In this kind of story the only way you meet the words ‘moral’ and ‘ambivalence’ is if they happen to be the name of the beautiful girl the hero’s dating (‘Pass me the Uzi, Moral, I got another bad guy to waste.’) Not my cup of tea.

Nic and crew inhabit a 21st century world that seems more real to me, one in which it’s getting harder and harder all the time not only to work out what’s right and wrong, but how you should respond to those challenges as an individual. This really starts to come into its own with The Sacred Cut which is a very contemporary story with historical leanings. I recently signed up to write three more instalments of this series, bringing it up to a minimum of six, and it feels open-ended to me right now. That’s not to say the cast won’t change with the books, though. This is not a static bunch of detectives sitting in the same office waiting for a different crime to descend on them. They’re much too awkward for that.

How will Nic Costa’s character grow in upcoming books?

He’s getting older, hopefully wiser, a little tougher and having to cope with all the problems and temptations growing up involves. He’s also going to have to face two big challenges. Holding down a proper relationship. And fighting off the urge to cut corners and get cynical as the years and the cases wear on. Fortunately he’s got great company to remind him when he starts to wander.

Another of your novels, featuring a different protagonist, entitled Lucifer's Shadow, will be published in the United States by Delacorte this August. What can you share with us about that book? Do you have plans for any other "stand alone" titles?

Lucifer's Shadow is a very different, almost literary, tale set in Venice during two time periods, the early 17th century—when Vivaldi was there— and the present. It tells two related stories of two young people facing the same problems and the same temptations. Originally it was going to be a completely contemporary piece about someone unearthing an old manuscript. But to do that properly I realised I had to create the back story of that manuscript itself, which meant writing historical fiction, something I’d never done before. It turned out to be so much fun I combined the two. One of the ideas the book explores is the destructive nature of genius, which has always fascinated me. Another is the question: do successive generations grow smarter, or are we just the same dumb/bright people separated by nothing more than the years? I’m sure I will write another standalone some day – I have notes for more than one. But Nic Costa and crew will find themselves in Venice in book 4 of this series, which I’m working on now, and meet up with some characters from Lucifer there. It’s pretty interesting for me revisiting these people again, and seeing them through Nic’s eyes.

Can you tell us about your work habits? Do you write every day? And how many hours per day do you normally write?

We live in wild countryside near the English Channel. At seven each morning I walk my little dog, then come back and sit down at the computer. My first job of the day is to read what I wrote the previous day, to check it and get in the mood. Then I work through till 12.30, take a brief lunch, have the luxury of a nap if I can, and get back to the keyboard around 2. I work on the book Monday to Friday and take weekends off for journalism and messing around in the garden (which is pretty big – we’re having a one - acre vineyard put in at the moment, which could well be the daftest thing I’ve done in many a year). I guess I’m at the computer eight hours a day but how much of that is writing, how much editing, or handling e-mail or mooching round the web trying to avoid work is hard to say. A book’s a little under a year’s work for me, with the final edit always, always, done somewhere in Italy over a couple of weeks.

In addition to your novels, you write a column for the Sunday Times (London). What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing fiction and nonfiction at the same time? Was it always your plan to write fiction?

I left school at 17. We were a pretty poor family so there was no chance of getting to college. The only way I could earn money by writing was joining a local newspaper. I got pretty ambitious and was on the staff of the London Times in my early twenties. I loved journalism, and have so many friends from the newspaper world. But writing fiction was what I always wanted to do, though it didn’t start to work until I was in my forties. For me journalism and fiction never cross. A different David Hewson writes each. Fiction is about being a good liar, convincing readers of a world I’ve created. Journalism has to be about accuracy, truth and honesty, all of which are important in fiction, but principally on a cerebral level, not in the detail. Although whether it was David H the journalist or David H the novelist saying that I’m not quite sure.

What writers have inspired you throughout your career?

In the little town in Yorkshire where I grew up I was lucky in that the library had a fantastic collection of American literature. So I grew up reading Hemingway, Steinbeck, Ambrose Bierce, Ray Bradbury, Ed McBain, Dos Passos and the like. To me they were so much more real than English novelists like Thomas Hardy because they had such narrative wit, style and brevity. The English have a tendency to overwrite and I feel lucky that I had a lot of lessons at an early age about how to avoid that sin.

Do you have favorite historical or suspense novelists that you read regularly?

I read against type, which is another way of saying that writing crime tends to damage your habit of reading it. I’m a sucker for Robert Graves (I, Claudius and Claudius the God), Mary Renault’s classical works, and still get a kick out of Conan Doyle. The last nonfiction work I read was a biography of Constantine, the emperor who first made Rome officially Christian. Unfortunately one side effect of writing for a living is that you spend less time reading but I’ve got a stack of stuff in my in tray – American and British – I want to get through before the end of the year.

Praise

Praise

“This enthralling story has it all…Best of all, it’s so seamlessly put together that time flies as you flip pages to get to the end.” —Rocky Mountain News

Intelligent entertainment. Hewson, far more than most thriller writers, has a serious concern for character.” —Washington Post

"Richly enjoyable, sophisticated and beguiling entertainment."—Sunday Times

"Keeps the reader guessing...relentlessly tightening the suspense until the end."—Daily Telegraph

"Engrossing... a complex story and an abundance of historical detail."—Publishers Weekly

"An idealistic detective ... Likeable Nic exudes series potential."—Kirkus Reviews


  • A Season for the Dead by David Hewson
  • December 28, 2004
  • Fiction - Suspense
  • Dell
  • $6.99
  • 9780440242116

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