Friday, June 11, 2010

"City of Fear"

David Hewson is the author of the Nic Costa series of novels set primarily in contemporary Rome. A former journalist with the London Times and Sunday Times, his work has been translated into many languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Thai ... and Italian.

He applied the Page 69 Test to City of Fear, the eighth and latest Nic Costa novel, and reported the following:
On Page 69 of City of Fear I’m introducing one of the main themes of the book and paying homage to a writer I love. This is a story set in the labyrinthine and tortuous world of Italian politics, one in which a decent old man, Dario Sordi, the nation’s president, is pitted against an indecent, scheming prime minister, and beset by a terrorist crisis that is not all it appears, turning for help to Nic Costa, whose late father he once knew.

One of the inspirations for the book is the work of the great Robert Graves, whose I, Claudius and Claudius the God first introduced me to the world of Rome when I was a kid. Graves wrote about the bloody, conspiracy-riven politics of the Imperial family in the palaces of the Palatine hill two thousand years ago. My book is set on a different hill, the Quirinale, not a mile away, around another palace, that built by a pope and now occupied by the Roman president. An abiding theme of these books is the recurring nature of history, how we return to make the same stupid mistakes over and over again. Graves made the self-same point in the Claudius books.

Is Page 69 representative of the book? Definitely. Would a reader skimming it still feel minded to carry on? Probably. I certainly hope so though they’d miss me offering a few word of thanks to one of my own literary heroes.

Page 69 extract:
Costa followed him back into the house. The library sprawled untidily across a set of shelves that spanned an entire wall in his father’s study.

‘Here,’ Sordi said, finding two copies among the foreign novels jumbled together in a section closest to the window. ‘Have you read them?’

They were by an English writer, Robert Graves. I, Claudius and Claudius the God.

‘Years ago, but I don’t remember them much,’ Costa admitted. ‘History’s not much to my taste.’

‘They’re about history only tangentially. In truth they’re about us. The human animal. About society. How it works, or attempts to. How it fails when we forget our ties to one another. Read them again some time, properly. Your father and I...’

Sordi opened the covers of each so that he could see. Inside was an identical inscription... To my dearest friend, Marco. From Dario, the turncoat.

‘We were still friends when I gave him these. Not for much longer. What came after, by which I mean the end of the commission into the Blue Demon case... perhaps it was inevitable we would drift apart.’

He waved the books at Costa and placed them on Marco’s desk.

‘These were a gift I hoped might explain a little. Your father lived for his principles. He would rather die than compromise them. I...’ Sordi grimaced. ‘A politician reaches a point in his life when he or she must decide. Do you wish to hold steadfast to your beliefs? Or do you become pragmatic and attempt to turn some small fraction of them into reality? I chose the latter, and look what it made me. A widower living in a solitary palace, with a slender grip on power and a prime minister who would send me off to an old people’s home if he could. King Lear of Rome. Perhaps your father was right. I betrayed what we once stood for.’
Learn more about the author and his work at David Hewson's website and blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue