We’re back in Rome, where Detective Nic Costa gets drawn into the case of a missing 16-year-old American girl whose mother insists she was abducted by a mysterious man on a motorcycle in front of a bunch of disinterested Carabinieri. While few at police headquarters take the mother seriously—the girl’s been gone less than a day, after all—Nic suspects that something more is going on. For one thing, the girl is the spitting image of a girl abducted 16 years earlier, whose mummified corpse has just turned up in a peat bog outside of town, her throat slashed, a coin in her mouth, and her garb that of an ancient Dionysian virgin sacrifice. With Nic and his strange new partner insisting on pursuing the case, it is soon discovered that the missing girl had artifacts of the Dionysian ritual in her bedroom. Now the hunt for her is on in earnest.
The plot rapidly expands to include the threat of all-out war between a powerful Mafia crime boss and a “retired” American Mafiosi also living in Rome, whose stepdaughter was the girl abducted 16 years earlier. It also includes a gorgeous female cop with a brutal ex-cop father, an absent-minded archaeology professor with a serious addiction who is more than he seems, and a brilliant police pathologist who is tired of “doing death” and wants to do “cop stuff”—in particular, solve the mystery of the mummified girl on her dissecting table and the hopefully still living missing American teen.
There are so many suspects in this novel that it’s a wonder Hewson keeps them all straight, but he manages to weave together the many strands into a coherent whole, even while fleshing out many of his characters—large and small—into mostly believable heroes and villains. Admittedly, it took a lot of my concentration to keep everyone straight, but it paid off in the end. I particularly enjoyed the play between Nic and his new partner, a demoted vice-cop with an ugly mug, a good heart and a lot to offer Nic who is still recovering from the loss of his father.