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When a preserved body is found in a peat bog, it looks as if the dead girl is a long-forgotten victim of a ritual killing from ancient times. But forensic examination soon proves the death is much more recent than that, leading to speculation that a cult based on the Bacchanalian mythology is active in present day Rome. And to make matters worse, another young girl has just gone missing in similar circumstances, a few days before the ancient ceremony of Liberalia, the anniversary of the first death…
Nic Costa has returned to duty following the death of his father and his recovery from the injuries he received in the first book of the series, A Season for the Dead. Nic finds he’s been paired up with Gianni Peroni, a high-flying vice cop who’s been busted back to the ranks after been caught with a prostitute. Nic is a refreshingly non-alcoholic, not particularly maverick cop – young and still a bit naïve and idealistic, but with a determined streak that leads him to take occasional risks.
This is a well written crime mystery with a complicated plot and an interesting setting. Although Nic is the nominal hero, we see the investigation from different perspectives through the eyes of several members of the police team and forensic pathologists. As well as ancient myth and legend, the story is firmly rooted in the Rome of today, with the authorities still battling to defeat the mobsters and Mafiosi that infest the city. As flu strikes, leaving the police short-handed, they are constantly diverted from the task of looking for the missing girl by a fresh outbreak of mob rivalry causing havoc throughout the city.
Overall, I found this a good read, though I felt it was a bit too long. The ending in particular was over-padded leading to a loss in tension, and there were aspects of it that took credibility almost to breaking point. But the characterisation is very good, both of the police team and the villains, and the introduction of Roman myths and legends gave it an added level of interest. I believe there are nine Costa books to date, and this one will certainly encourage me to continue with the series. Recommended.