Excerpt from The Garden of Evil by David Hewson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Garden of Evil

by David Hewson

The Garden of Evil
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2008, 480 pages
    Feb 2009, 592 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt

The visitors always laughed at his subtle, fluttering fingertips. It was such a small, secret signal, yet as soon as one saw it there could be no doubting its meaning: the bus or the carriage had just been joined by a known pickpocket. Look out.

He was careful to keep records, maintained in a private code on a piece of paper hidden at the bottom of his closet. On a normal working day, Aldo Caviglia would not return home until he had stolen a minimum of Û400. His average—Caviglia was a man fond of precise accounts—had been Û583 over the past four weeks. On occasion—tourists sometimes carried extraordinary amounts of cash—he had far exceeded his daily target, so much so that it had begun to trouble him. Caviglia chose his victims carefully. He never preyed on the poor or the elderly. When one miserable Russian's wallet alone yielded more than Û2,000, Caviglia had decided upon a policy. All proceeds above his maximum of Û650 would be donated anonymously—pushed in cash into a church collection box—to the sisters near the Pantheon who ran a charity for the city's homeless. He prided himself on the fact that he was not a greedy man. Furthermore, as a true Roman he never ceased to be shocked by how the city's population of destitute barboni, many young, many unable to speak much Italian, had grown in recent years. He would take no more than he needed. He would maintain a balance between his activities and his conscience, going out to steal one or two days each week, when necessary. For the rest of the time he would simply ride the trams and buses for the pleasure of being what, on the surface, he appeared: a genial Good Samaritan, always ready to help the stranded, confused foreigner.

The bus lurched away from the bus stop. the traffic was terrible, struggling through the holiday crowds at a walking pace. They had moved scarcely thirty metres along Vittorio Emanuele in the past five minutes. He stared at himself in the bus driver's mirror again. Was this the face of a guilty man? Caviglia brushed away the thought. In truth, if he wanted to, he could probably get a job in a bakery, now that he was sober. No one ever complained about his work. His late wife had thought him among the best bakers in Rome. There was a joke he now made to himself: These fingers can make dough, these fingers can take dough. It was a good one, he thought. He wished he could share it with someone.

If I wanted to, Caviglia emphasised to himself.

You feel guilty, said a quiet, inner voice, for yourself and the life you are wasting. Not for what you've done.

He glanced out of the grimy windows: solid lines of cars and buses and vans stood stationary in both directions. The sudden joy of the coming holiday vanished.

To his surprise, Aldo Caviglia felt a firm finger prod hard into his chest.

"I want the stop for the Vicolo del Divino Amore," said a woman hard up against his right side. She spoke in an accent Caviglia took to be French, with a confidence in her Italian which was, he felt, somewhat ill-judged.

He turned to look at her, aware that his customary smile was no longer present.

She was attractive, though extremely slender, and wore a precisely cut short white gabardine coat over a tube-like crayon-red leather skirt that stopped just above the knee. Perhaps thirty-five, she had short, very fiery red hair to match the skirt, acute grey eyes, and the kind of face one saw in advertisements for cosmetics: geometrically exact, entirely lacking in flaws, and, to Caviglia's taste, somewhat two-dimensional. She seemed both nervous and a little depressed. And also ill, perhaps, since on second consideration her skin was very pale indeed, almost the colour of her jacket, and her cheeks hollow.

She had a large fawn pigskin bag over her shoulder. It sported the very visible badge of one of the larger Milan fashion houses. Caviglia wondered why a beautiful woman, albeit one of daunting and somewhat miserable appearance, would want to advertise the wares of the Milanese clothes crooks and, by implication, her own sense of insecurity. The bag was genuine, though. Perhaps one thousand euros had been squandered on that modest piece of leather. The zip was halfway open, just enough to reveal a large collection of items—a scarf, a phone, some pens, and a very large, overstuffed wallet.

Excerpted from The Garden of Evil by David Hewson Copyright © 2008 by David Hewson. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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