The Seventh Sacrament by David Hewson
What the Back of the Book Has to Say:
"There's an entire underground city down there... houses and temples, entire streets."
Giorgio Bramante, a Roman archaeology professor, was master of the hidden world beneath the earth -- until the day he lost his young son, Alessio, to a group of students intent on re-creating a centuries-old ritual to a long-banished god. His rage knew no bounds and, in a frenzy, he beat one of the students to death.
Released from prison fourteen years later, Giorgio is bent upon a terrifying revenge on all those he blames for the loss of his son. Inspector Leo Falcone, a member of the original investigating team, is one of his targets.
And Nic Costa, watching Falcone move relentlessly into the man's merciless grip, realizes the answer must lie in solving a cold case that, like the forgotten Alessio Bramante, has long been regarded as dead and buried for good.
Why I Picked It Up:
I was feeling like a good mystery and between the back of the book and its 500ish pages length, it seemed like a good bet.
What I Think:
I don't know if it's me or if it's Japan but this book has continued the strange pattern of my picking up books that are fifth in a detective series. There have been hits (Upon a Dark Night) and there have been misses (Shrink Rap). It all really comes down to how much of the book is devoted to the mystery and how much of the book is devoted to characters that, if you are just starting at book five like I seem to always do, you know nothing about. It's a delicate balance that a devoted series reader will never notice and someone forced to read books out of order, despite being an avid series reader most of her life, is made painfully aware of.
Now, the actual mystery of this book is, indeed, very interesting. Bramante was especially interested in the Mithraic religion and the novel centers around the seven fold path of Mitharism. I felt kind of blessed because I had visited the best preserved Mithraic temple in San Clemente last year and actually had an idea of what they were talking about: an ancient men's religion centered on overcoming fear through manliness and violence. It definitely suits the tone of the novel.
The entire novel is told in two perspectives: the past and the present day. Depending on the way a small figurehead of a Roman statue is facing underneath the chapter number is the indication of what time period you are in. Thus, the reader is at once both watching the day that Alessio Bramante disappeared fourteen years ago and watching the police chase his father during a murder rampage in present day. By keeping the plot ever moving forward in this way, there is always the promise of more information, of more clues and it never really gets boring.
Until about page 300. You see, the biggest problem this novel has is that, for all its 526 pages of length, it only really needs maybe 300 of them. I swear, there wasn't even a plot twist until 390-something. The plot just continued forward with nothing happening that you weren't expecting. Even when we're first introduced to Giorgio Bramante, killer at large, he has already killed five of the seven targets on his list. If you're going to write a mystery about a man killing people in revenge for a missing child, at least give the reader the satisfaction of following him around for most of it. It almost feels like we jumped in to the story a little too late and missed the good parts. There are twists and turns, granted, but most of them come too little too late. Almost all of the most interesting information is presented in the last fifty pages, where you have pretty much already zoned out at this point.
Added to this is the main characters themselves. The big question: are they interesting even if you haven't read the earlier novels? Well, yes and no. As personalities, they do seem to be fairly interesting, although it does take awhile to figure out who, exactly, is who. There's our hero, Nic Costa, who may have had some sort of past but now he's just a stereotypical hero. His girlfriend is Emily Deacon, an American who may or may not have used to work for the FBI (they were never super clear). There's Falcone, somehow a superior to Costa who used to be one way but now is another? There's the female pathologist who is very no-nonsense and her boyfriend (I think) who is a fellow agente and very tough-man. Basically, you can get a short idea of their personalities but not really any insight into them as the author assumes you already know them.
The most frustrating part of all of this is that, apparently, the previous book in this series ended on a humongous cliffhanger. There are all these references to "after what happened in Venice" and "still recovering from Venice" and "due to his injuries in Venice." However, they never reference what happened in Venice. I can only assume it was the previous book in the series, especially due to who I assume is a new character and how they kept mentioning how she seemed so strange "since [they] found her in Venice."
Did I love this book? Well, no. I was entertained reading it but I kept wondering when something was actually going to happen. Despite that, though, I can honestly say that I was a little intrigued by all this name-dropping of the past. I kind of want to know what happened in Venice. I'm curious if Emily Deacon was introduced in book one as an FBI agent and what Falcone was like before he apparently changed so dramatically in this novel. Although the mystery was overly long and the ending super abrupt, I would pick up this author again, just out of sheer curiosity.
You win this time, Hewson.