x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Carnival for the Dead: an idle drift through Venice

A Venetian forensic pathologist hunts for her missing aunt through a series of short stories, fiction within fiction.

Carnival for the Dead
David Hewson
Pan Macmillan
Carnival for the Dead David Hewson Pan Macmillan Dh76

This is a very strange book. It is billed as a “Venetian mystery” – a strange category in itself – and begins with that most heart-sinking of literary tools, a glossary: a Venetian glossary to be precise. So, while the persistent shoehorning in of local terms may jar, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

The story is set in, yes, Venice and at Carnival time. The lead character, Teresa Lupo, is a forensic pathologist looking for her aunt who has gone missing. One of the conceits of the narrative is a series of short stories, dotted through the book – part fiction within fiction, part clue-delivering device. It sounds more promising than it is. For the most part these stories read like sixth-form essays that must be endured just in case they prove to have some bearing on the “real” narrative.

Meanwhile, Lupo’s professional skills remain largely, and disappointingly, uncalled for as she reads through these tales and drifts through Venice in February. All those years of study and, for the purposes of this book, she might as well have spent them drinking machiatis and eating fritelle (Carnival doughnut-like sweets).