This is my second Hewson book, and I must admit I do enjoy reading them. The problem is I don't really know why.
This admission is not easy to make for a book lover, and I have always considered myself an omnivorous one who sometimes enjoys reading just for the process itself. The solitude and retreat into my own mind has been a comforting and reassuring feeling as long as I can remember, and certain books really resonate because the author effectively creates an alternate reality for me to reside in. Hewson's Rome, the setting of his novels, is just such a place.
The problem is that while I am effectively transported, once there I am never sure what is really happening. That is, is this a mystery, for if so, its not very effective since the murderers are known almost from the beginning. And while the historical thread which weaves through the story about Caravaggio is interesting, it , too, is never really surprising or suspenseful. Perhaps the artist just isn't well known enough to elicit the interest that Dan Brown so ably tapped into.
Even as far as suspense is concerned, while there are high points, most of the novel does not come close to the kind of action one expects, or gets, from a Ludlum or James Rollins.
So why did I enjoy reading this book? The characters are very well drawn, and since this is the seventh of a series, they have begun to have the kind of histories that is achieved only over the course of several books, or by great authors in a single one. I've always felt characters are the key to successful novels, with plot lines being secondary. Anyone who has read Sherlock Holmes will understand what I mean by this. While the sixty original stories may blend together with time, the glimpses of Holmes and Watson as they lounge around Baker Street are treasured forever.
And here is my biggest complaint, or perhaps constructive criticism, regarding The Garden of Evil. The main villain should have, and could have, really been an interesting character, with multiple facets and layers for us to discover and examine. However, Hewson fell short here, and instead we never really get a three dimensional figure, who really could have raised this novel to another level.
But for all its missed potential, I do recommend this book for those who enjoy the thrill of being transported to another place for a brief time, in this case Rome at Christmas, with its serpentine Renaissance streets, majestic Churches, and palatial homes, as a band of detectives and forensic scientists work to defeat Age old evil clothed in modernity but nonetheless redolent of the carnage and perversion seen so often in our history.