The Fallen Angel – by David Hewson

Published by Macmillan this month.

With all of the current doom and gloom in news surrounding bookstores and libraries, David Hewson is in a good position to move his stock to an alternative trading outlet – the travel agencies.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has given me such a sense of place, a feel for its history and a reason to want to have a travel agent’s brochure on the shelf next to it as my next read, to book a holiday – in this case to Rome.

This is the ninth book in the hugely successful Nic Costa series, which began with A Season for the Dead, and although I have all of the series piled up and ready to read, I really wanted to read this latest one, but with all the concerns that a reader has knowing they are stepping in to a tale with established characters and potential spoilers.

When time permits, the sun is shining and there’s some nice wine to sit in the garden with, (yeah, I know, not asking for much…) I fully intend to read the whole series through, but for now I had to dive in.  So, I sent David a message on twitter to check if there would be any major spoilers in reading book 9 in isolation.  He kindly advised me that it’s just not something that you can expect of a reader to start from the beginning and that every book has to pretty much stand on it’s own merit as there will always be readers to pick a title mid-series.  So, whilst there might be a few links to the previous books, there was certainly nothing here to spoil my enjoyment of The Fallen Angel.

In fact, I was very surprised that towards the end of the novel that when Nic Costa speaks out of character and it is commented on, I picked up it before that was said – so clearly a great job has been done here and I really felt I knew the characters well, despite them being relatively new to me.

Personally it worked very well on two levels.

Firstly, the characters and the tremendous detail in the places, the landscape and the storytelling itself – all of which made me feel very involved.  I was sitting at the table when they ate together and chatted, was alongside them in the climactic scenes.  For the same reason, I found it to be a read that really wanted my full attention – and deservedly so – it’s a book to savour, not one to dip in an out of for a few chapters at a time.  This is a story that wants you to turn off all the phones and hide away from everyday distractions.  It’s a story that wants to be heard and wants to take you on a journey to a geographical place I’d love to visit, but to emotional and dark places where I’d prefer not to tread.

Secondly, it was the historical aspect to the story.

It’s the tale of Malise Gabriel, who falls from a scaffold on an apartment building in Rome and of Nic Costa’s investigation into the man’s family and secrets he feels are within that seem to be connected with a sixteenth century event, which resulted in the execution of a young girl, Beatrice Cenci.  The combination of recent family traumas and the historical parallels worked very well I thought.

I have had the pleasure of hearing David talk about his research in the past (for Dante’s Numbers) and recall the level of detail he researches which clearly gives such a defined and three-dimensional aspect to reading his novels.  Just go to his website http://www.davidhewson.com and you’ll see page after page of historical research on architecture and on paintings and a large collection of photographs – many of which link to this latest novel.

In other heavily researched novels, this can become clumsy.  We’ve all read books where the author is clearly saying ‘look, I read up on all this stuff, so you’re getting the whole lot too’ without editing or choosing only what is important to the story and of genuine interest. With The Fallen Angel I felt it was more like an author saying ‘ come here, there’s something really interesting to show you, and I’ll be your guide around this place, this story’.

The fact that the central character of Nic Costa is on leave and pretty much stumbles upon the body is, again, a scenario that would jar in many other series as an ‘oh, as if..’ moment, but it works here.  It all works here.

Now, what I’d like to do is pack a suitcase with all of the Costa novels and head down to the travel agents – David Hewson’s Rome seems like a wonderful place.

Keith B Walters

 

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