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THE ABOMINATION
by Jonathan Holt
Harper, June 2013
448 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 0062264338


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If the prospect of a conspiracy thriller set in Venice, one involving the Catholic Church and a possible whiff of the occult, is enough to make you roll your eyes and look for something else to while away a few hours by the pool, you might just be missing out on something if you consign THE ABOMINATION to the wet towel bin.

This debut by the creative director of a London advertising agency represents the first in a proposed trilogy. It is smartly conceived, tightly written, and skilfully plotted. We begin with newly-promoted Captain Kat Tapo of the Carabinieri on her first murder case and it's far from routine. A body has been pulled from the canal in front of Santa Maria della Salute, two bullet holes in the back of the head, which might suggest a mob hit. This is no ordinary corpse, but a woman dressed in the authentic canonicals of a Roman Catholic priest. On her arm two odd symbols are tattooed. The priest from the bishop's office knows immediately what to call this woman who not merely dresses as a priest, but is one, duly, if secretly, ordained by a bishop - "an abomination."

While Kat Tapo is not the first woman detective in the Carabinieri, she is still treading on male, and often hostile, ground. Much the same can be said for the other protagonist, second lieutenant Holly Boland of the US Army, newly posted to the vast army base, Caserma Ederle, near Venice. Holly, an army brat, grew up in the area and speaks fluent Italian. Neither of these women imagines for a moment that she inhabits a gender-neutral world and their previous experiences provide the grounds for their cooperation as they each risk their careers and even their lives to get to the bottom of a series of related murders.

The third principal is a man, Daniele Barbo, an Italian computer hacker who has created a mirror world, a virtual Venice complete in every detail, which can be used for all sorts of secretive communications as well as for other, often unsavoury, pursuits. Barbo is something of a recluse and is under indictment for a variety of computer-related crimes.

What ensues is a multi-layered narrative that involves a conspiracy of interests determined to suppress all knowledge of a genuine abomination that took place in Bosnia during the war, interests that have considerable resources at their command, including drones. The suspense builds as the two women near their objective and it is here that it seems to me that Holt stakes out some new territory. Neither Kat nor Holly are superwomen - they are simply plausibly competent and very determined.

Along the way, Holt takes the opportunity to score some points against the Italian judicial system - the prosecutor's inventive reinterpretation of the facts in the initial murder case recalls the prosecution of Amanda Knox - and the US Army's determination to shield its members against too great an exposure to the foreign land in which they are stationed - which extends to the provision of California chardonnay in the base bar. But on the whole his anger is directed at targets that richly deserve it.

THE ABOMINATION is the first of the planned Carnivia trilogy. Carnivia, the virtual mirror of Venice, is a brilliant creation and, together with the soundly-established characters Holt has invented, should provide a strong basis for the sequels. We are, however, left with the poignant wish that Carnivia were up and running, for in the face of global warming and the increasing height of the high water that periodically inundates Venice, the acqua alta, it may in time become the only Venice we have.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, July 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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