These Dark Things (Captain Natalia Monte)
by Jan Weiss
Cover Artist: Photo: Nikki Smith / Archangel Images
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Soho Crime Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781569479384
Date: 10 May 2011 List Price $24.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In Naples, Italy, Teresa Steiner has been found stabbed to death within the bone riddled catacombs deep beneath the Church of Santa Maria del Purgatoria. Captain Natalia Monte and Sergeant Pino Loriano of the Carabineri have been assigned to find the killer of this beautiful, young university student who had numerous admirers. Meanwhile, there is a mob war being fought in the garbage-strewn streets. Car bombs and poisoned heroin kill many mobsters and innocent civilians alike.
I am very excited about Jan Merete Weiss' excellent mystery debut, These Dark Things. Steeped with ancient pagan rituals, religious hypocrisy, political corruption, mobster brutality and lust for the flesh, this novel has a dark, gloomy, ominous atmosphere that is quite palpable. The ancient, Gothic city of Naples, at the foot of the rumbling Mount Vesuvius, provides an excellent setting. A fast paced murder mystery/action thriller, These Dark Things kept me absolutely spellbound. I didn't want the novel to end. If only its sequel could be published next month.
Score a point for the feminist movement. Captain Natalia Monte is one of the few women in her field. Naturally, she has faced much opposition and criticism in order to obtain her goals. Her partner, Sergeant Pino Loriano, is a handsome male. The sexual tension between them increases until it blossoms into an affair. He is a devout Buddhist; she is an uncommitted Catholic. Their affair, if discovered, could be detrimental for their careers. Overall, I strongly admire Captain Natalia Monte because of her dedication to her childhood friends, Mariel and Lola, especially Lola who is a member of the Camorra - the mob that practically rules Naples.
Though the novel has a very high body count, its main focus is on solving Teresa Steiner's murder. There are numerous suspects, including Teresa's womanizing university adviser, Professor Marco Lattanza; a young, partially blind novice monk, Benito Gambini; and the head of the Camorra mob, Aldo Gambini, who hired her to steal money from the sacred shrines. Teresa was an amoral young woman who achieved great joy from leading men astray. Her research for her thesis was cutting edge but blasphemous in that it proposed that the Virgin Mary and Jesus were modeled after the goddess mother Isis and her reincarnated son Horace.
Reading These Dark Things made me feel that I was actually visiting Naples, Italy. Jan Merete Weiss aptly described its dark, horrid slums and brothels and the garbage fires that burned out of control, turning the city into Dante's Inferno. However, she also described the beauty of its cathedrals, marketplaces and parks. There are many nuns, widows and prostitutes. Some of the female prostitutes are men. The author has an unique sense of humor while describing all that is Naples. For example, Captain Natalia Monte saw two nuns and remarked how young girls preferred the prospect of marriage to God rather than the marriage to a hairy man. Also, two prostitutes were washing their clothes in the bathroom sink at the railroad station; a woman genuflected when realizing that one of the prostitutes was actually a man. Life is both dark and colorful in Naples.
Jan Merete Weiss' These Dark Things is a must read for those who love a good Agatha Christie-like mystery. Who killed German-born Teresa Steiner? It is especially recommended for fans of European mysteries, Italian crime noir, and mysteries investigated by competent and likable female inspectors. As stated earlier, I look forward to additional novels in this outstanding series.