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The Villa of Mysteries    by David Hewson order for
Villa of Mysteries
by David Hewson
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Vacationing in Italy, Bobby and Leanne Dexter roam Ostia Antica beaches with a metal detector, hoping for a big archeological find. They discover something, but to their disappointment, it's a female body. And, though it's been preserved with peat, it is not an 'ancient icon'.

Soon Inspectors Falcone, Costa, and Peroni are on the scene, joined by feisty forensic pathologist Teresa Lupo (my favorite cast member). At first glance - from the presence of a thyrsus, seeds, peat, and a coin under the victim's tongue - the body appears ancient. Though Lupo's first round of lab tests indicate the victim's age to range between 50 A.D. and 230 A.D., dirt from under the fingernails proves the body has been in peat a shorter time - and the prognosis changes from 'historical cadaver' to 'murder victim'. The pathologist's composure falters as she tells the investigators, 'I've got a corpse half finished back in the morgue. One that looks two thousand years old but only went in the ground sixteen years ago. I've got scientific problems with names you couldn't even pronounce.'

Inspector Falcone withdraws a cold case photo from his files of an abducted sixteen-year old, whose appearance matches that of the body in the morgue. Another, recently-abducted, teen also resemble the 'bog body'. Both girls have the same tattoo (a mask from an ancient Roman comedy), attended the same language school, were both sixteen years of age, and both disappeared on March 17th. Further investigation indicates ritual killings, hints of a Greek secret cult imported into Pompeii, and connections with a book entitled 'Dionysus and the Villa of Mysteries' by eccentric professor Randolph Kirk and with an archeological dig-site at his residence. The ruthless head of DIA (Internal Affairs) Rachele D'Amato adds further substance, and spice to Hewson's multi-layered-plot. D'Amato is going all out to get Emilio Neri, a 'capo' in the Rome mobs.

David Hewson pens an intriguing mystery, with building intensity, enriched by the intricacies of Italian locations, history, and art. These combine well with a colorful, lively, and well-developed cast. Although the format is one long chapter (which might annoy some readers), I enjoyed The Villa of Mysteries and recommend it to you. David Hewson has also written A Season for the Dead and Lucifer's Shadow.

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