David Hewson The Garden of Evil (Nic Costa)

ISBN 13: 9781509820290

The Garden of Evil (Nic Costa)

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9781509820290: The Garden of Evil (Nic Costa)

The picture possessed a frightful beauty, one which burned so brightly that, once witnessed, could never be unseen ...Even the presence of two corpses, one clearly murdered, the other dead through strange and suspicious circumstances, did nothing to distract their attention from the canvas ...In a hidden studio in an area of Rome where the Vatican liked to keep an eye on the city's prostitutes, an art expert from the Louvre is found dead in front of one of the most beautiful paintings that Nic Costa has ever seen - an unknown Caravaggio masterpiece. But before long tragedy will strike Nic far closer to home. The main suspect's identity is known, but he remains untouchable - protected in his grand palazzo by a fleet of lawyers and a sinister cult known as the Ekstasists. If Costa and his team can crack the reasons for the cult's existence, he may well stand a chance of nailing the double-killer. But the mystery will take him right back to Caravaggio himself and the reasons he had to flee Rome all those centuries before ...

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About the Author:

David Hewson was born in Yorkshire in 1953. He has worked for The Times, Independent and Sunday Times as a journalist, and has written numerous novels, as well as several travel books. David Hewson's European crime and mystery books range from the Copenhagen of The Killing and Sarah Lund to the Italy of Nic Costa and the Amsterdam of Pieter Vos. David lives in Kent.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One


Aldo caviglia glimpsed his reflection in the overhead mirror of the crowded 64 bus. He was not a vain man but, on the whole, he approved of what he saw. Caviglia had recently turned sixty. Four years earlier he had lost his wife. There had been a brief, lost period when drink took its toll, and with it his job in the ancient bakery in the Campo dei Fiori, just a few minutes' walk from the small apartment close to the Piazza Navona where they had lived for their entire married life. He had escaped the grip of the booze before it stole away his looks. The grief he still felt marked him only inwardly now.

Today he was wearing what he thought of as his winter Thursday uniform, a taupe woollen coat over a brown suit with a knife-edge crease running down the trousers. In his mind's eye he was the professional man he would have been in another, different life. A minor academic, a civil servant, an accountant perhaps. Someone happy with his lot, and that, at least, was no lie.

It was December the eighth, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Christmas stood on the horizon, its presence finally beginning to make itself known beyond the tawdry displays that had been in store windows for weeks. Every good Catholic would attend mass. The Pope would venerate two famous statues of the Virgin, in the Piazza di Spagna and at Santa Maria Maggiore. Catholic or not, families would flock to the city streets, to shop, to eat, to gossip, to walk around and enjoy the season. In the vast racetrack space of the Piazza Navona, which followed the lines of the Imperial stadium that had preceded it, the stalls occupied almost every last square metre: toys for the children, panini of porchetta carved straight from the warm pig's carcass for the parents, and the Christmas witch, La Befana, everywhere, on stockings and pendants, decorations and candies, a half-hideous, half-friendly spectre primed to dispense gifts to the young at Epiphany.

Caviglia gripped the handrail as the bus lurched through the traffic past the stranded temple ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, smiling at his memories. Theirs had been an uncomplicated, innocent marriage, perhaps because it had never been blessed by children. Even so, for Chiara's sake, he had left out a traditional offering for La Befana—a piece of broccoli, some sausage, and a glass of wine—every year of their marriage, right to the end, when her life was ebbing away like a winter tide retreating gently for the last time. He'd never had the money for expensive presents. Nor did it matter, then or now. The pictures that still remained in his head—of rituals; of simple, fond, shared acts—were more valuable than any lump of gold or silver could ever have been. When his wife was alive, they served as visible symbols of his love. Now that he was alone, the memory of their giving provided comfort during the cold, solitary nights of winter. In his own mind Christmas remained what it always was: a turning point for the year at which the days ceased to shorten, Rome paused to look at itself, feel modestly proud of what it saw, then await the inevitable arrival of spring and, with it, rebirth.

Even in the weather the city had endured of late—dark and terribly wet, with the Tiber at its highest in a quarter century, so brown and muddy and reckless it would have burst its banks without the modern flood defences—there was a spirit of quiet excitement everywhere, a communal recollection of a small, distant miracle that still bore some significance in an ephemeral world of mundane, fleeting greed. He saw this in the faces of the children spilling down the city streets and alleys, excited, trying to guess what the coming weeks would bring. He saw this in the eyes of their parents, too, remembering their youth, taking pleasure in passing some fragment of the wonder on to their own offspring in return. Nor was the weather uniformly vile. Occasionally the heavy, dark clouds would break and a lively winter sun would smile on the city. He'd seen it drift through the dusty windows of his apartment that morning, spilling a welcome golden light onto the ancient, smoke-stained cobblestones of the alley outside. It had made him feel at home, glad to be a Roman born and bred.

Caviglia had lived in the centro storico all his life and worshipped in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi around the corner. His wife had adored the paintings there, the Caravaggios in particular, with their loving and lifelike depiction of Matthew, at his conversion, during his work, and finally at his death. One December eighth, twenty-five years ago it must have been, Caviglia had marked their visit by spending what little money he had from his baker's wages on a bouquet of bright red roses. Chiara had responded by choosing the most beautiful stem and pinning it into the strap of his floury overalls—he had come straight from work—then taking him in her arms in an embrace he could still recall for its strength and warmth and affection.

Ever since, even after she was gone, he had marked the day, first with roses, bought before breakfast from the small florist's store that stood close to the piazza, then a brief visit to the church, where he lit a single candle in his wife's memory. He no longer attended mass, though. It seemed unnecessary.

A single carmine stem from tuscany sat in the left lapel of his woollen coat, its supple, insistent perfume rising above the diesel odour and the people smell of the bus, reminding him of times past and how, in those last few weeks of her illness, his wife had ordered him, in a voice growing ever weaker, to mourn for a short time only, then start his own life afresh.

To the widowed Aldo Caviglia there was no finer time to be in Rome, even in the grey, persistent rain. The best parts of the year lay ahead, waiting in store for those who anticipated them. And in the careless crowds of Christmas, flush with money, there was always business to be done.

He had an itinerary in mind, the one he always saved for the second Thursday in the month, since repetition was to be avoided. Having walked to Barberini for the exercise and taken a brief turn around the gallery, he had caught the 64 bus for the familiar journey through the city centre, following Vittorio Emanuele, then crossing the river by the Castel Sant'Angelo for the final leg towards St. Peter's. Once there, he would retrace his steps as necessary until his goal was reached.

Caviglia both loved and hated the 64. No route in Rome attracted more tourists, which made it a beacon for the lesser members of his recently acquired profession. Many were simply confused and lost. Aldo Caviglia, an impeccably dressed man in later middle age, who wore a perpetual and charming smile and spoke good English, was always there to help. He maintained in his head a compendious knowledge of the city of his birth. Should his memory fail him, he always kept in his pocket a copy of Il Trovalinea, the comprehensive city transport guide that covered every last tram and bus in Rome. He knew where to stay, where to eat. He knew, too, that it was wise to warn visitors of the underside of Roman life: the petty crooks and bag-snatchers, the hucksters working the tourist traps, and the scruffy pickpockets who hung around the buses and the subway, the 64 in particular.

He gave them tips. He taught them the phrase "Zingari! Attenzione!" explaining that it meant "Beware! Gypsies!" Not, he hastened to add, that he shared the common assumption all gypsies were thieves. On occasion he would amuse his audience by demonstrating the private sign every Roman knew, holding his hands down by his side, rippling his fingers as if playing the piano. He had a fine, delicate touch, that of an artist, which he demonstrated proudly with this gesture. Before the needs of everyday life had forced him to find more mundane work, he had toyed with the idea of painting as a profession, since the galleries of his native city, the great Villa Borghese, the splendid if chaotic Barberini, and his favourite, the private mansion of the Doria Pamphilj dynasty, were places he still frequented with a continuing sense of wonder.

The visitors always laughed at his subtle, fluttering fingertips. It was such a small, secret signal, yet as soon as one saw it there could be no doubting its meaning: the bus or the carriage had just been joined by a known pickpocket. Look out.

He was careful to keep records, maintained in a private code on a piece of paper hidden at the bottom of his closet. On a normal working day, Aldo Caviglia would not return home until he had stolen a minimum of Û400. His average—Caviglia was a man fond of precise accounts—had been Û583 over the past four weeks. On occasion—tourists sometimes carried extraordinary amounts of cash—he had far exceeded his daily target, so much so that it had begun to trouble him. Caviglia chose his victims carefully. He never preyed on the poor or the elderly. When one miserable Russian's wallet alone yielded more than Û2,000, Caviglia had decided upon a policy. All proceeds above his maximum of Û650 would be donated anonymously—pushed in cash into a church collection box—to the sisters near the Pantheon who ran a charity for the city's homeless. He prided himself on the fact that he was not a greedy man. Furthermore, as a true Roman he never ceased to be shocked by how the city's population of destitute barboni, many young, many unable to speak much Italian, had grown in recent years. He would take no more than he needed. He would maintain a balance between his activities and his conscience, going out to steal one or two days each week, when necessary. For the rest of the time he would simply ride the trams and buses for the pleasure of being what, on the surface, he appeared: a genial Good Samaritan, always ready to help the stranded, confused foreigner.

The bus lurched away from the bus stop. the traffic was terrible, struggling through the holiday crowds at a walkin...

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