The British novelist returns with the second novel in his Venetian Mystery series.
Arnold Clover, the reluctant hero of David Hewson’s masterful new crime series set in Venice, has returned. The Borgia Portrait, is a canny delight, weaving a beguiling tale of murder and mayhem. Clover reveals a labyrinth of history across centuries, as he races to complete a series of mysterious riddles with devastating consequences. The book is resplendent in Venetian lore, from Casanova and Aldus Manutius to a hidden crypt in a cursed palazzo. Here, David Hewson discusses his writing process, inspirations, and the conundrum that is Venice.
In The Borgia Portrait we are introduced to a new side of our reluctant hero. Arnold Clover is still curious, clever, and capable; however, we see a softening, a glimmer of his romantic nature. His insists on protecting the penniless and captivating Lizzie Hawkins, even though she refuses to be considered a damsel in distress. If I liked Arnold Clover in The Medici Murders, I adore him now.
In the life of a series do you intentionally reveal the nuances of your characters in a way that with each book we learn more? Can you give us a hint of future revelations that will be divulged for Clover and his best friends Luca Volpetti and Valentina Fabbri?
Characters always grow from book to book. If they don’t, they’re not “real”. In the first book Arnold’s recently widowed and struggling to make sense of his new life, alone, in a new and very strange city. When we meet him there, he’s more settled, more confident, more amenable to entering the world a bit. More of a protagonist too, making things happen rather than letting things happen to him.
As to where he goes now… I need to keep my cards close to my chest. I feel he’s becoming more proactive, more of a detective if you like. So, in any next outing he will be a little bit more outgoing, I think. Which given his propensity for getting in terrible pickles should make for an interesting story.
Reading The Borgia Portrait often felt like literary cartography, as the map was being drawn linking the intricate movements of the characters as they completed their arcane puzzle. Did you ever use a physical map of Venice to conceive the direction, turns, and twists, plotting the circle as you went? Or were you able to conceive of their route completely in your mind’s eye?
I set myself a simple challenge with this story. Beneath the surface of the main narrative, I wanted to create a cryptic riddle which could only be solved by locating some real-life oddities hidden within the fabric of Venice itself. You can’t Google things like that.
Over several trips, I walked every step of the long journey Arnold and Lizzie Hawker make, a circle from Castello, across the Grand Canal to Dorsoduro, Santa Croce, then to Cannaregio, looking to solve the strange puzzle she’s been left. And yes, I have a map of all the curiosities they meet along the way, every one but the last climactic place real. But I purposely decided not to share that in the book and online. People need to find these places for themselves. That’s the only way to get the most out of Venice’s more arcane corners. And for anyone who wants to embark on what I think of as the Borgia Portrait Trail a word of advice… take good walking shoes! It’s quite a hike.[Read the complete article here and click here for the Italian version: The Borgia Portrait. Conversando con l’autore, David Hewson]