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'Abomination' creates a fascinating world

| Saturday, July 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Don't be deceived by the title, “The Abomination.” There's nothing unreal about Jonathan Holt's excellent first mystery.

It's solidly based in present-day Venice, with two women protagonists, Capt. Kat Tapo of the Cabinieri and, an American, 2nd Lt. Holly Boland.

The “Abomination” is the washed-up body of a woman dressed in the robes of a Catholic priest — something that is viewed as desecration by the church. Don't get distracted by this murder; there's much more to come.

The third major player is Danieie Barbo, the creator of Carnivia, a worldwide online game based on Venice itself. Barbo, a reclusive genius who inherited a vast fortune but lives in his family's decaying Palazzo awaiting sentencing on hacking and pornography charges — charges that may not be true.

Tapo is assigned the job of discovering who the Abomination really was and what she was doing in clerical garb. Boland becomes swept into the hunt when it turns out the military and the CIA is involved. Barbo and Carnivia is a touchstone for finding the path to the bigger mysteries. Throw in the 1990s' Bosnian war, human trafficking, sex discrimination, the Catholic Church's views on women priests and drones, and you have a heady mixture for a first mystery.

Holt writes in a deft, engaging fashion. He's outstanding in sketching out his characters.

“An attractive young women, her face heavily made up, wearing a short black coat, galoshes, and apparently very little else, was hailing him (the detective at the crime scene) from the wooden walkway.

“You can't come through here,” he said automatically. “This is a crime scene.”

She dug an ID card out of her pocket and held it up. “Capitano Tapo, sir. I've been assigned to the case.”

But it's Carnivia that is fascinating. Besides being a reproduction of Venice, it also “uses encryption technology to keep its users anonymous. So, once you're inside Carnivia, your communications are safe. It's like having your own military-grade communications channel.” This is useful for many of the characters, both good and evil.

While the plot sometimes becomes too tangled for comfort, and the parts of the finale border on disbelief, there is something about “The Abomination” and Carnivia that is fascinating. Even if any of the three major characters don't return for the next two novels, the set-up is in place for future reading.

“The Abomination” leaves you hungry for more.

Tish Wells is a staff writer for the McClatchy Washington Bureau

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