Dante's Numbers (Nic Costa) by David Hewson

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Dante's Numbers (Nic Costa) by David Hewson

Buy Dante's Numbers (Nic Costa) by David Hewson at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Andrew Lawston
Reviewed by Andrew Lawston
Summary: An international murder mystery surrounds the opening of a Hollywood blockbuster. It sounds like an episode of Columbo but makes surprisingly compelling reading.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 406 Date: October 2008
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230529359

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David Hewson's Dante's Numbers is a title which instantly inspires conflicting emotions, depending largely on what you think of the Da Vinci Code. As I spent most of 2004 avoiding people who kept trying to tell me that 'it's all true you know', I was a little wary at first.

I shouldn't have worried. Dante's Numbers is the latest in a series of crime thrillers featuring a police department in Rome. Leo Falcone, Nic Costa, Perroni and Teresa (the obligatory comedy pathologist) have apparently featured in a series of seven previous Italian capers. Dante's Numbers can only be described as 'The Hollywood one'.

At the Roman premiere of Tonti's adaptation of Dante's Inferno, the lead actor is murdered, the lead actress suffers a faintly bizarre assault, and Dante's death mask is stolen from an exhibition. There are enough hints of a deadly conspiracy for the department to fly out to San Francisco to follow the film to its Hollywood premiere. Crime ensues.

To lay the most obvious fear to rest – this is not a novel dealing with a centuries old riddle connected to Dante's work, and the Catholic Church are not sending out albino assassins. In fact, almost as soon as the action moves to the US, Dante becomes sidelined in favour of references to Hitchcock and Kubrick. And this is something of a relief in some respects.

This is a very very silly book indeed. Shaky dot com companies, mafia connections, florid serial killers, femmes fatales, twin retired firefighters, incredibly unlikely villains, it's all there, but moving at such a brisk pace that the absurdity of these elements never quite hits home.

In many respects this is due to the characterisation. Nic Costa, the lead character, is coming to terms with the death of his wife, and struggling to find the strength to save his new love interest, with whom he seems to see uncomfortable parallels. He's not a hard-drinking maverick, he doesn't play by his own rules to get results and he doesn't have a collection of classic cars. Instead he's a fairly young man with a slight impetuous streak who has experienced enough of life's rougher corners to give him some depth. He's a breath of fresh air in detective fiction in general.

The absence of clichéd police officers is to be highly commended. Although the pathologist is a light-hearted character, she doesn't hang around making horrible jokes about sandwiches for black humour. All four police officers are thoroughly plausible human beings.

The guest cast are also compelling. The femme fatale Maggie Flavier suffers from a bad case of heroine angst, but not quite enough to become truly irritating. The true stars of the show are retired firefighters Hank and Frank – identical twins who do all the bungling into trouble that idealistic lieutenants are supposed to do in this sort of story. Their carefree interference perversely makes the narrative stronger – were a police officer to follow their brand of wild hunch and laughable investigation, most readers would slam the book shut in frustration. These two are supposed to be amateurs, and you can't hold it against them.

Another thing that stops the novel from getting too silly is the ongoing conflict between the police department and the Carabinieri (effectively military police), squabbling over jurisdiction issues. There's a limit to how many murders you can have at the premiere of a new film before it gets absurd – but inter-departmental turf wars are part and parcel of bureaucracy and utterly believeable.

The progress of the investigation is more or less solid throughout the book – every time it looks as though things are slowing down, another body turns up with satisfying timing. Depending on what you're looking for from a crime novel, there's a bit of a cheat – you're given more than enough clues to work out the broad gist of what's going on, but you'll never guess the villain – crucial information is withheld until the last chapter. While that's good for preserving suspense, I always find it a bit of a swindle in some respects. I'm rubbish at guessing the outcome of a good mystery story even when I'm given all the clues, I've no chance if the author starts shifting the goalposts on me!

Such minor quibbles aside, I was really pleased with Dante's Numbers. It's played dead straight but contains just enough that is quirky and off the wall. The ending is over the top but utterly utterly brilliant, and even in the very few parts which are predictable it's all a huge amount of fun. Hewson's writing is solid and engaging, and he's clearly at ease with his regular cast of characters – to the extent where I may even seek out the earlier adventures of Nic Costa and his buddies.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then we think that you might also enjoy The Price of Darkness by Graham Hurley.

David Hewson's Nic Costa novels in chronological order

Buy Dante's Numbers (Nic Costa) by David Hewson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dante's Numbers (Nic Costa) by David Hewson at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Dante's Numbers (Nic Costa) by David Hewson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dante's Numbers (Nic Costa) by David Hewson at Amazon.com.


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