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‘Fallen Angel’ a mystery heavy on atmosphere

August in Europe can feel downright unpleasant.

Most of the continent seems to be on vacation (crowds and traffic jams, anyone?), and there are tons of foreign tourists roaming the cities. Plus it’s usually blazing hot.

Rome, with its gazillion historical sites and rich culture, is no exception.

So when Italian detective Nic Costa has his vacation cut short to check into a sudden, mysterious death, he’s not happy about it.

"The Fallen Angel" is British author David Hewson’s story about Costa’s investigation through a packed and sultry Rome.

Hewson’s novel is heavy on atmosphere, which is a major plus. Too many mysteries nowadays try to imitate thrillers by going on a rapid pace that sacrifices character and plot development for over-the-top storylines and "gotcha" moments.

"The Fallen Angel" doesn’t go that direction. The story is grounded in reality and has a grimy, yet slightly luscious, feel to it. I felt like zipping off to Rome after reading it.

Costa, who is in his early 30s and loves his Vespa, is a member of Rome’s famed police force, the Questura. When scholar Malise Gabriel falls to his death from some scaffolding, Costa is called in to investigate.

At first, it seems like an accidental death. But as the inquiry unfolds, Costa and his co-worker Falcone stumble onto something bigger. The death is not accidental, and there may be some enemies who wanted to kill him, including family members with dark secrets. Costa runs into life-threatening danger.

Gabriel’s radiant teen daughter, Mina, is in Rome and seems devastated by her dad’s death. But Costa discovers that she may have been abused by him. He draws parallels to the 1599 beheading of Beatrice Cenci by the Vatican for murdering her father, a man known for his sexual crimes and abusing Beatrice.

Is the Gabriel case a 21st-century repeat of the Cenci episode? Or is it something entirely different?
"The Fallen Angel" doesn’t have a lot of violence and action but it does have plenty of family and police intrigue. There’s even some budding romance for Costa. But the star of the story is Rome, a city that has seen its fair share of "beauty and barbarity."

"That’s what we are," Costa says. "A kind of magnifying glass for humanity. All the best parts, all the worst, out there in the light of day for everyone to see."

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