Another Nic Costa crime thriller set in Rome, which reads less like a movie script and more like a subtler and fully-fleshed version of The Da Vinci Code. Young cop Nic Costa has recently been partnered with burned-out detective Luca Rossi and is sitting outside St. Marks Square trying to figure out how to survive the intense summer heat and humidity when reports of a shooting in the Vatican galvanizes the bored Costa into action. Despite strict instructions to steer clear of Vatican affairs, Costa races to the library and finds beautiful young professor Sara Farnese standing in front of a desk with a fresh human skin splayed across it, and a fellow professor dead at her feet. He had burst into the library with a gun in one hand, the skin in a bag, and was shouting incoherent warnings at her when an over-zealous guard shot him dead.
Efforts by a Vatican officer to force the Roman policemen off the case fail when Costa, Rossi and Farnese follow the clues to even more gruesome murders, some of them prominent individuals, each execution modeled on the deaths of various sainted martyrs. As more bodies turn up, they all turn out to have been lovers of Farnese, but attempts to find the madman responsible and to protect others on Farnese’ “list,” prove fruitless. Several of the dead had been involved in efforts to lift a ban on the release of a high-level cardinal, who has been kept a virtual prisoner inside the Vatican ever since his wheelings and dealings led to the collapse of a bank in which both the mafia and Vatican funds were heavily involved. The Cardinal’s links to Farnese appear to be key to solving the murders, but she isn’t talking and Nic finds himself romantically drawn to her while she is kept in protective custody at his family’s farm, where his prominent Communist father is slowly dying.
Hewson manages to successfully stir the complicated relationships between Nic and his father, his father and Farnese, Farnese and Nic, Nic and his suspicious commander Falcone, Nic and his partner Rossi, and Rossi and police pathologist “Crazy Teresa,” into an exciting plot of Vatican intrigue, mafia blackmail, and psychosis, and somehow makes it all work. The thrilling end, when it comes, will make Dan Brown fans ecstatic, and Costa is definitely more fallible, and therefore more believable, than Brown’s symbology professor Robert Langdon. An enjoyable—if bloody—thriller.