David Hewson’s Venetian mystery in Carnival for the Dead

A very gothic detective story involving the disappearance of the dear aunt Sofia of a Roman forensic pathologist Teresa Lupo. The setting – Venice in the cold winter month of February – is used to create a particular sense of mystery by intertwining the present with the past, the fictional reality with legends and creepy ghost stories. The narrow labyrintish alleyways of the ancient Serenissima, the unrealistic atmosphere of the water-city, and the characters in their carnival costumes with hideous masks covering their faces lurking in the long shadows of the decaying palazzos contribute to Venetian atmosphere that serves for building up suspense. In the narrative the city is linked to old memorable images created by Lord Byron and John Ruskin that associate Venice with death, stagnation, and decline.

The author’s adaptation of an idea to build the story around riddles the protagonist has to solve in order to find her beloved bohemian aunt, although not totally original (it has already been used for example in Dan Brown’s bestsellers), succeeds in taking the reader along the winding Venetian lanes. The city that at times becomes the protagonist never fails to mesmerize. The detective story follows the determined pathologist in her attempt to decipher the puzzling leads that take her through Venetian history, legends, and art history. The decaying Venetian palaces, terrifying carnival costumes like that of the Plague Doctor, unidentifiable characters behind the gruesome masks, the mist and shadows of the ancient city make this an excellent read for those who like a touch of gothic in crime fiction. 

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