The Lizard's Bite by David Hewson

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The Lizard's Bite by David Hewson

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The fourth book in Hewson's Costa and Peroni series can be read as a stand-alone novel. It has a good plot and has Venice to perfection. The female characterisation is better than the male and the first half is not as well-paced as the second but it's nevertheless a reasonable read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 360 Date: January 2007
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 1405055146

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Detectives Nic Costa and Gianni Peroni are nearing the end of their exile in Venice following a little bit of insubordination on a case in Rome. Their girlfriends are arriving shortly to join them for a holiday before they all return to Rome. When they're ordered to investigate two deaths which occurred at the same time as a fire in a glass foundry in the island of Murano they're not exactly enthusiastic particularly when it seems that they're being railroaded into writing the deaths off as accidental.

Venice is awash with fictional detectives. It's the birthplace and spiritual home of Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen as well as Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti. It's an easy market to enter - Venice has so much to offer the aspiring novelist with its historic city and dubious politics - but a difficult one to conquer. David Hewson hasn't conquered the market but there is promise there.

He has Venice to perfection - the dying city which is being turned into a theme park to attract yet more of the tourists who are strangling the place. He has the murky politics too - the place where not being corrupt is quaint and rather strange and it's accepted that those who rise to the top are likely to be crooks, with the only worry being the advantages which might flow from this. He has the insularity of the outlying areas - Murano, where even the Arcangelo family who have been glass blowers on the island for decades are despised as newcomers, or the farmer from the nearby mainland who takes pride in the fact that he is not Venetian.

The basic plot is a good one. On the face of it Uriel Arcangelo murdered his wife Bella and put her body in the furnace in the glass-blowing foundry. He then finds himself unable to get out of the foundry and is burnt to death when the furnace goes out of control. The Arcangeli are in financial difficulties and part of their property is to be sold to property millionaire Hugo Massiter. Public money (much of which is destined to end up in private pockets) is involved and what's required is a quick and tidy solution to the case so that the deal can be finalised.

It's a personal foible but I'm never too keen on stories where civilians are brought in to play a part in the investigation. I suppose it does happen, but it never rings quite true to me. It's perhaps more acceptable in this story as the girlfriends are an ex-FBI agent turned architect and a pathologist, but it still smacks a little of convenience. The first half of the book was a little slow but it gathered pace and the second half was a real page-turner. Some judicious editing in the first half would have given the story real pace.

Unusually for a male author I found the female characters to be more rounded than the male. I was still having difficulty distinguishing between the detectives ('Costa, younger, small and slight, Peroni, older, big and not so slight' became my mnemonic) halfway through the book, but the two girlfriends, Teresa Lupo the pathologist and Emily Deacon the ex-FBI agent along with Raffaela Arcangelo, sister of the murdered man, emerge as fully-formed personalities very quickly.

Another personal foible is that I like a map, even a very basic one, just to give me some idea of what happens where - it really can make quite a difference to my appreciation of a story. I'm afraid there isn't one in this book.

The Lizard's Bite is the fourth book in the Costa and Peroni series but can be read as a stand-alone novel with no problems. I haven't read the first three (but probably would if they came my way) and found no difficulty in picking up the threads of their lives, nor did I feel that there were any likely plot-spoilers for earlier novels.

This isn't a great book, or even a very good one, but it's an enjoyable story with some very good dialogue. If you're looking for a better modern detective story set in Venice then Michael Dibdin's Dead Lagoon is recommended. The writing and observation are sharper. The book is comparable with some of Dona Leon's Guido Brunetti books but not as good as Blood from a Stone or Fatal Remedies. Hewson is getting into his stride with this series and it might well be one to watch for the future.

David Hewson's Nic Costa novels in chronological order

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