The Lizard's Bite is the fourth in the Nic Costa series, David Hewson's detective novels of love and death in Italy.
Life was never black and white in Italy . . . Something about the place both disturbed and interested him. Venice reminded him of a bad yet familiar relative, dangerous to know, difficult to let go.
As their exile in Venice draws to a close, Roman detectives Nic Costa and Gianni Peroni are ordered to investigate an apparently open-and-shut case, a fire in a glass foundry that has claimed two lives, so all they want is to wrap it up quickly.
However, as they dig more deeply into the insular glass-making community on Murano and the strange Arcangeli family, things don’t quite add up. With increasing pressure from above to finish quickly, events spiral quickly out of control – with devastating consequences . . .
About the Author
Former Sunday Times journalist David Hewson is well known for his crime-thriller fiction set in European cities. He is the author of the highly acclaimed The Killing novels set in Denmark, the Detective Nic Costa series set in Italy and the Pieter Vos series in Amsterdam. The Killing trilogy is based on the BAFTA award-winning Danish TV series created by Søren Sveistrup and produced by DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.
While he lives in Kent, Hewson's ability to capture the sense of place and atmosphere in his fiction comes from spending considerable research time in the cities in which the books are set: Copenhagen, Rome, Venice and Amsterdam.
Read an Excerpt
The Lizard's Bite
By David Hewson
Delacorte PressCopyright © 2006 David Hewson
All right reserved.
In the shifting darkness of the vessel's bowels, low over the undulating black water, the animal waited, trembling. The man, the much-loved man, his master, worked around him, puzzled by the creature's fear, clucking sounds of consolation, not noticing events on the quayside above. Men possessed, the animal understood, a weaker, coarser form of consciousness. Sometimes it seemed men scarcely noticed the presence of blood at all. . . .
For an instant the black breath of the sirocco eased. The Isola degli Arcangeli--small, solitary, shining in the brief glimpse of moonlight--was still. Then the night wind returned, more fierce and relentless than before. The fragile frame of the grandiose palazzo shook beneath the onslaught. Shards of brittle glass tumbled from the shutters half-finished by the restoration men only the day be- fore. Close by, clouds of sandy dust raked the golden stone of the Arcangeli's mansion, hammering at the ornate windows arching out over the lagoon. On the other side of the palazzo, in the foundry, once the mother lode of the Arcangeli clan's fortunes, the blast chased down the single funnel chimney, probing for some weakness, like a giant from the world beyond breathing into a fragile paper bag, rattling the rickety high doors, bending the misshapen glass roof with its brittle span of supporting ancient timbers.
The high-summer gale from the Sahara had been over thecity for three days now. Dry choking dust lurked in its belly, working its way into the crevices of the fornace, disturbing the precious process, looking for something clean and bright and perfect to despoil. The daily yield of good glass, which had never been on target of late, was as low as he could remember. The disturbance was everywhere. Dust devils swirled over canals and chased each other in and out of the island's constricted alleys. Beyond Murano, across the lagoon, in Venice proper, churning black water fetched by the wind now lapped insistently over the stonework at the edge of the Piazza San Marco.
The August storm took away the month's familiar enervating heat and put something alien in its place. Even now, at just after two in the morning, under the frank gaze of a full moon stained rusty by the storm, the lagoon seemed breathless, starved of oxygen. He wasn't the only one awake, panting in the dry heat. Beyond the Isola degli Arcangeli lay an entire city choking on the sirocco's sand-filled wheezings. He listened to the storm's anger as it threw itself upon the fragile shell of the foundry. The wind's sighs seemed to vibrate to the rhythm of the deep, smoky gasps of the hulking primitive furnace in front of him.
Half loved, half hated, the leviathan stood at the heart of the solitary room, roaring as the wind's blasts fought their way down its crumbling brick chimney and raked their scorching breath across its embers. He didn't need to look at the temperature gauge to see the fire was too intense. The hemisphere of the interior was approaching a white, incandescent heat too painfully bright to look at. In its maw the costly crock of nascent slow-mix glass, ground cogoli pebbles from Istria and the soda ash of burnt seaweed, just as a Murano maestro would have demanded five centuries before, would be churning uncertainly, part of a mystery he directed but never quite controlled.
An hour before, nothing was out of the ordinary. Then, when he'd gone back to the empty office for a while, sunk a couple of glasses of grappa, trying to make the night go more quickly, Bella had called, demanding he examine the fiery beast before his time. She had given no reason, only vague forebodings. And she wasn't there either, once he'd splashed his face in the office washroom, gargled some water around his mouth to disguise the stink of alcohol. He'd found one of the double doors ajar, walked in, closed it behind him and met nothing. The island seemed empty, dead. There was only one other worker around, Piero, the lowly garzone, who had turned up unexpectedly on his night off and was now shifting wood and ash from his boat outside.
He shook his head, wishing the effects of the drink would disappear. The furnace was always difficult. The archaic use of both wood and gas, part of the Arcangeli's secret process, made sure of that. But nothing now made sense. As he watched, the grunting, groaning monster roared again beneath the shifting bulk of the fenestrated roof, then exhaled in concert with the wind.
One--or both--seemed to whisper his name, taunting him. His father had called Uriel that for a reason. The Arcangeli were always different even when, before his time, they were just a bunch of bourgeois boatbuilders maintaining the last worthwhile squero in Chioggia. Growing up as a child in Murano, he was aware of the distance, al- ways. You never met a Bracci or a Bullo who had to bear such a burden. They'd have been teased, without mercy, every single day in the plain, hard school by the church. Uriel Arcangelo was never mocked. Never befriended either, not even when he took one of them for a wife.
Maybe, the grappa said, laughing at the back of his brain, they knew what the name meant.
Fire of God. Angel of terror.
It was just another of his father's cruel little jokes, to make every one of his four children an angel twice over, each with their set role. Michele to succeed him as capo. Gabriele to be the strong man by the furnace, the maestro with the pipe, seeing that the clan prospered. Or not. Raffaela to intercede when matters went too far, to bring a woman's sense to their deliberations, to heal. And Uriel. The hardest, the loneliest of vocations. Uriel the magician, the alchemist, the family's omo de note, the Venetian's whispered, almost fearful name for a man of the night, keeper of the secrets, which had been passed on from the small black book that used to live in Angelo's jacket pocket, kept from the curious gaze of outsiders.
Uriel closed his eyes, felt the heat of the furnace scorch his skin, recalling those last days, with Angelo fading towards death in the master bedroom of the mansion next to the damned palazzo, the money pit that had consumed them over the years. The image of that final night would never leave him. How the old man had ordered the rest of them out, made him, little more than a boy just out of his teens, read the notebook, study its ancient recipes, commit those secrets to memory. Uriel had obeyed, as always. So well that Angelo Arcangelo had called a servant and burned the book in front of his eyes, just ash and flames fed by lighter fuel in an ancient pisspot, as his father laughed, not kindly either, for this was a test. The Arcangeli would be tested, always.
By midnight, his family at his side, Angelo Arcangelo was dead, a pale, stiff cadaver on the white sheets of the antique four-poster where each of them had been conceived. In Uriel's head the scene was as real, as cruelly vivid now, thirty years after, as it was that night. And the codes lay secure in his head still. Living, shifting potions of arsenic and lead, antimony and feldspar, each betokening a shape or a colour that would form within the substance of the raw crude fritta growing in the belly of the furnace, then metamorphose into something beautiful when the next magician, Gabriele the maestro, with his steely arms, his bellows for lungs, his pincers and his pipe, worked the sinuous, writhing form in the morning. This was how the Arcangeli tried to put food on the table, not by building bragozzi barques for Chioggia fishing clans. Magic made the Arcangeli money, kept them alive. But magic was a harsh and temperamental mistress, demanding, sometimes reluctant to perform. Now more than ever.
Angelo had passed on his secrets with a cunning, certain delib- eration. The memory of his father's face in those last moments-- skull-like, grinning, knowing--stayed with Uriel always, taunting, awaiting the time when Angelo's son would fail, as every omo de note did because theirs was an imprecise art, one which could be destroyed by an extra milligram of soda or a slight shift in the searing 1400-degree heat of flaming wood and gas. Even so, Uriel had memorised the formulae, repeating them constantly, burning them into his synapses, swearing that a day would come when he would find the courage to defeat the demon of his father's last admonition: Never write these down, or the foreigners will steal from you. He was still waiting. Just the thought now, long after his father had turned to dust, made him sweat all the more heavily beneath the heavy tan furnace apron he wore over an old, tattered cotton suit.
That time would come. Until it did, the litany of recipes would race through his brain unbidden, unwanted, when he woke up, head throbbing from drink, in the blazing light of their apartment in the mansion. On those rare occasions he wrestled with Bella on the old, creaky brass bed, trying to find some other kind of secret in his wife's hot, taut body, wondering why this was now the only way they could converse.
"Bella," he murmured to himself, and was shocked how aged and dry his own voice sounded. Uriel Arcangelo was forty-seven. A lifetime of working nights in the furnace, the cursed, beloved furnace, feeling the fire break the veins of his hardening cheeks, gave him the complexion and the dull, depressed outlook of an old man.
"What is this?" he now yelled angrily to no one. He heard only the furnace's animal roar in return.
He understood this fiery beast better than any man. He'd grown up with it, fought for hours to control its tantrums and its sulks. He knew its many moods: none better than the long, torpid hours in which it refused to come to temperature. It had never overheated before. The fabric of decrepit iron and brick was too insubstantial, leaked out too much expensive energy through its cracked pores.
A thought entered Uriel Arcangelo's head. He'd been burned many times in the furnace. Once he nearly lost an eye. His hearing was bad, his sense of smell ruined. But there'd never been a blaze. A real blaze, the kind that had put rival furnaces out of business. That meant the Arcangeli were lax when it came to precautions. They'd never followed the fire department's orders to the letter. It was always cheaper to send round the bribe than carry out the repairs.
The hose was outside, attached to the exterior wall of the foundry, a curling snake of dusty pipe. There wasn't even so much as an extinguisher close by.
Uriel coughed. There was smoke in the miasma issuing from the furnace, a foreign smell too. Not thinking, doing this because it was, simply, what came naturally, he took out the flask of grappa, knocked back a swig, clumsily, aware that a dribble of the harsh liquid had spilled down his front, staining the bib of his brown apron.
She'd know. She'd sniff and she'd look at him, that Bracci look, the cruel grimace of hatred and despair that spoiled her features so often these days.
A noise emerged from the heart of the furnace. It was a sound that Uriel had never heard before, not from gas or wood or glass. A soft, organic explosion sent a shower of sparks flying out of the structure's angry orange mouth. The lights danced in dusty reflections across the ceiling. The sirocco roared and shook the foundry as if it were a dried seed head shaking in the wind.
Uriel Arcangelo took out his own set of keys, walked back and placed the right one in the old mortise, just in case he needed to make a quick exit.
The furnace needed help. Perhaps it was more than one man could manage. If that was the case, he had, at least, a swift route of escape, out to the quay and the house beyond the palazzo, where the rest of them now slept, unaware of this strange event shaping just a few metres away on their private island.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Two Italian detectives become involved in a bizarre double murder that occurs in Venice. The victim is a member of an eccentric family sur-named Arcangeli. They live on an island where they operate a glassmaking furnace, the art of glassmaking having been passed down to them from their father. The two cops are called in to shuffle papers and rubberstamp the opinion of the town fathers, which is that the glassmaker and his wife died as the result of a domestic dispute. But, being who they are, the cops cannot let their doubts about the truth of the matter rest.The story is full of detail and moves rather slow. I had a hard time getting into it and didn't find it that suspenseful. Those looking for a 'literary' read and who would enjoy immersing themselves in the Venetian setting would probably enjoy it more.
If you've read the previous books in the series, you'll remember that at the end of the last one (The Sacred Cut), the main characters, Nic Costa, Gianni Peroni and their boss Leo Falcone, have been exiled to Venice for awhile for a slight matter of insubordination. While there, they were treated as outsiders, pretty much laying low, not getting involved in too much crime business. They are on the eve of some leave, and their friends from Rome have come to visit, when murder strikes. The scene is the Isola del Arcangeli, a glass factory that has not done well for the Arcangelo family lately, keeping them in constant debt. One of the Arcangelos is found dead, burned to a crisp, along with his wife. Our three police friends are told that they must come up with a satisfactory conclusion to the murder within a week; for it is then that English businessman (and superbly shady character) Hugo Massiter is going to be buying the island on which sits the factory, and everyone higher up it seems does not want any glitch in the sale. They have their minds made up that Uriel Arcangelo killed his wife and then himself...and need the Roman policemen's seal of satisfaction on the investigation in case the murder ever comes under scrutiny. But the three are not so easily put off...and the investigation leads to a wonderful plot twist that I didn't see coming. A very fun story, and it will appeal to readers who want a mystery that is intellectual and a definite cut above what's out on the shelves today. Recommended, highly, but do read the books in order.
'The Lizard¿s Bite' is the fourth book in the series of the Nic Costa Mysteries featuring Nic Costa, his partner Gianni Peroni and their Commissario Leo Falcone. This story starts off with the death of two members (husband and wife) of a local glass making family. Nic Costa, Gianni Peroni and Commissario Leo Falcone who at the end of the previous book were exiled to Venice as a punishment, get assigned to this case. They were instructed to turn in a quick conclusion of a domestic murder-suicide and take their leave, as they were near the end of their stay. But it quickly becomes obvious that it was not a domestic murder-suicide as different characters and situations come up. An Englishman who wants to take over the glass making family¿s property, the lead on the case Hugo Massiter¿ Costa and his colleagues are pulled into a web of lies, deceit and cover-ups, and soon find that not everything is as it seems. The book started off very slowly but builds up as it goes on, bit by bit. There are many twists and turns in the plot, and many surprises, especially the unpredictable ending.
Amazingly good story! Since I never read this author I really didn' t know what to expect. A really page turner, hard to put down. Will definitely be reading more of his stories.
The fire in the Archangeli family glassmaking factory on the Island of Morano off Venice led to two deaths that of Uriel Archangeli and his wife Bella. The local police want to write it off as an accident, but some insist a murder suicide occurred. Rome Police Detectives Nic Costa and Gianni Peroni are sent to Venice to rubber stamp either ¿truth¿. Instead the pair finds evidence to the contrary especially when seeking a motive as to to why Uriel would kill Bella or for that matter visa versa especially torching their beloved glassworks factory an accident has been relegated to the realm of fantasy. The sleuths soon learn that Isolo di Archangeli glassworks was in the middle of a somewhat hostile takeover bid with Uriel as the toad in the road. Could someone wanted to remove the obstacle to the sale and is that the motive for a double homicide? --- In their latest Italian police procedural, Costa and Peroni get in trouble with the brass for doing their job of running a valid inquiry. Fans of the series will enjoy the top rate investigation into whether an accident, a suicide, or a homicide covered up by arson occurred. Newcomers will become engrossed with this superior thriller and seek out their previous caseload (see THE SACRED CUT). --- Harriet Klausner