Book review: Carnival for the Dead

By David Hewson
Published by Macmillan

Having recently returned from a weekend in Venice, I couldn’t help but being drawn to David Hewson’s latest book, Carnival for the Dead – A Venetian Mystery.

My choice was purely based on the fact that I liked the cover as – to my utter shame – I must confess that I had never heard of this author before. Nor of his bestselling crime books featuring detective Nic Costa, which are now in development for a series of TV movies set in Rome.

I was lucky: firstly because this is a standalone book with only vague references to the Costa series and secondly because this is probably going to be Hewson’s last Italian novel, as he has now been asked to produce two works of fiction based on the famous TV show The Killing, set in Copenhagen.

Back to the book… Teresa Lupo, a forensic pathologist from Rome, travels to Venice to look for her aunt Sofia, who seems to have vanished in thin air. Not finding any clues as to her whereabouts, she turns for help to the retired pathologist Alberto Tosi and to the people who might be able to shed some light on what has happened to her aunt, including the two other inhabitants of the old Venetian palazzo.

While nobody is able to help her, she starts receiving short stories by an anonymous person. And here is where it all starts to get creepy! The mysterious author of these fictional pieces – in which both Sofia and Teresa appear – seems to know details of their lives that only someone close to either of them would know.

Are they cries for help sent by Sofia to lead her niece to her? Or perhaps they are being sent by someone who wants to help her find her aunt? Either way, why can’t this person simply come forward and give clear instructions? Teresa needs to solve these cryptic puzzles and – assuming that her aunt is indeed in trouble – she needs to be quick.

Quick is also the pace at which I found myself turning the pages of this gripping mystery! The presence of the short stories within the novel is a treat and I was so engrossed in finding clues that, while I was reading them, I stopped being the reader of Carnival for the Dead and somehow became Teresa Lupo. At one point or another, I was also suspicious of pretty much every single character – main or minor.

A good mystery is one that keeps you wondering right until the end and David Hewson manages to do just that. In a Venice in the middle of the Carnival celebrations – cold, seething with people wearing masks and so beautifully and authentically described that I’m going on a Carnival-for-the-Dead-inspired pilgrimage in a few weeks – nothing is what is seems. And no-one is who you think they are.


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