David Hewson is the bestselling author of more than sixteen books published in more than twenty languages. His popular Nic Costa contemporary crime series, set in Rome, is in development for a television series. That series began with A Season for the Dead, featuring Nic Costa, son of an infamous Italian Communist, a connoisseur of Caravaggio, and a cop who barely looks his age.
The Costa series is nine novels strong, and the latest, The Fallen Angel, is earning rave reviews. USA Today noted: “This international mystery is as good as it gets.” Booklist gave it a starred review, commenting, ” Perhaps no other contemporary mystery author mixes both history and landscape so completely into the fabric of his stories… it is finally Hewson’s ability to meld that ancient context into equally compelling, character-centered human dramas in the present day that makes his work so special.” And the Times of London wrote: “Hewson presents an atmospheric portrait of a dark, corrupt Rome behind the jolly tourist façade, astutely mixing the historical and the present. This is the ninth in the Nic Costa series, and possibly the best.”
David, thanks much for taking the time to visit us at Scene of the Crime. I’d like to focus on the Costa series set in Rome, if that’s okay with you. I see that you live in Kent, and am wondering what your connection is to Rome?
Most of my books are set in Rome. I don’t have a specific connection. I chose to write books set there because I think it’s the most interesting place in the world. I lived there off and on for a while studying Italian. Now I go back when needed. I usually spend a month in Italy researching each book.
What things about Rome make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?
I write about justice and society. Our ideas about those two subjects come in many ways from Rome. So there’s a historical resonance I hope to use.
Did you consciously set out to use your location as a “character” in your books, or did this grow naturally out of the initial story or stories?
I don’t do that consciously. But if location is an afterthought it isn’t good enough. If you can transfer a story from one location to another without changing anything something’s wrong. My Roman stories are located in Rome. They wouldn’t work anywhere else in Italy.
I choose a specific neighbourhood in the city, take an apartment there, read about the areas, talk to locals, take lots of photographs, immerse myself in it. Once I feel the know the place then I can start. The rest should come naturally.
How does your protagonist, Nic Costa, interact with his surroundings? Is he a native, a blow-in, a reluctant or enthusiastic inhabitant, cynical about it, a booster? And conversely, how does the setting affect Nic?
Most of the characters are Roman. They’re optimistic, honest people, a bit naive sometimes. Nic Costa loves the place too, is moved by its culture and history. The place shapes them. They interact with it as natives and couldn’t dream of living anywhere else. The setting affects them in the sense that, since they love and care about the place, they hate to see it – and its community – damaged.
Well I’m published in Italian and the series is in development for TV by a Rome-based company (though for English production). So I guess they don’t have a problem with it. Most of the local reaction doesn’t see the fact I’m foreign as a big deal.
Have you ever made any goofs in depicting your location or time period? Please share–the more humorous the better (we all have).
It’s not a location thing. It’s a name. Nic is an unusual shortening for an Italian Christian name. Normally he’d be Nico. Wish I’d known that at the beginning but it’s too late now.
Of the Nic Costa novels, do you have a favorite book or scene that focuses on the place? Could you quote a short passage or give an example of how the location figures in your novels?
I really like the current book The Fallen Angel, which is set in the ghetto. It comes from a true tragedy from the 16th century and covers a lot of interesting history. It opens with the city….
‘It was the last Saturday of August, just past midnight. Nic Costa sat on a low semi-circular stone bench midway across the Garibaldi bridge, listening to the Tiber murmur beneath him like some ancient spirit grumbling about the noise and dirt of the city.
“To his left in Trastevere ran a steady stream of cars and crowded late-night buses taking people home to the suburbs, workers from the hotels and restaurants, diners and drinkers too tired or impoverished to stay in the centre any more. On the opposite side of the river, where this portion of the road bore the name Lungotevere De’ Cenci, the traffic flowed towards the centre, more quietly at this time of night.”
Who are your favorite writers, and do you feel that other writers influenced you in your use of the spirit of place in your novels?
Too many to mention. But Robert Graves (I, Claudius and Claudius the God) are books I still reread, and gave me a hankering for Rome when I was a penurious kid in England.
What’s next for Nic?
A rest. The next book is set in Venice and takes a character from the series, Teresa Lupo, and gives her a standalone story.
David, many thanks again for talking with us at Scene of the Crime.
For more information on David Hewson, visit his homepage.