Masks and Stories: Making Sense in David Hewson’s Carnival for the Dead

DSCN0904Hewson, David. Carnival for the Dead. London: Macmillan, 2011. 

David Hewson is a new writer to me, but I found Carnival for the Dead in a local bookstore and thought, “this is just the thing to read on the way home.” The prime reason for my choice was that the novel is set in Venice, and I have a certain fondness for Venice. If you want to know more about Hewson, you can do as I did and go to his own website http://davidhewson.com  .

IMGP0296 - Version 2I enjoyed Carnival for the Dead for several reasons. It is a good mystery novel. Where is forensic pathologist Teresa Lupo’s Aunt Sophia? Is she safe? There are some moments when you think perhaps that the novel is going to move into the territory of the gothic, but, despite the atmosphere, this is a satisfactory mystery story, the resolution of which depends on rational observation and intelligent thought. Where the book perhaps moves beyond the territory of the simple “whodunit” is the fact that Hewson’s novel also raises interesting questions about the whole construction, veracity, and permanence of narratives. Some of the “clues” to Sophia’s whereabouts take the form of anonymous short stories wherein fact and fiction are uncomfortably merged. These stories are delivered by various means to Teresa, who draws upon her police connections and her training as a pathologist to discover the truth.  What is the significance of Carpaccio’s dog or of the recurring figure of the Medico della Peste?

IMGP0291 - Version 4I liked the humour in the book. One of the characters is a Yorkshire baker making Eccles (in Lancashire) cakes in a Venetian pastry shop.

But most of all, it was the setting that gave pleasure. Sophia’s flat is in the Dorsoduro, the sestiere where I prefer to stay when I go to Venice. Venice itself is described in close and I believe very accurate, highly atmospheric detail. For 367 pages one can lose oneself in the myriad calles and hidden campos of the city, smell the tang of the lagoon, and indulge in nostalgia.

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