In Jonathan Holt’s first book, he introduced readers to Capt. Kat Tapo of the Venice Carabinieri (police). She and 2nd Lieutenant Holly Boland make two interesting sleuths, along with the reclusive Daniele Barbo, creator of Carnivia, an elaborate online world that reflects Venice itself.
His newest novel, “The Abduction” deals with the kidnapping of an American girl, interrogation techniques used by the United States in the War on Terror, drugs and, in a side plot, the aftermath of World War II in Italy.
This book is not for the weak-stomached. While the plotting is not as strong as the previous “The Abomination,” the visual imagery of torture and sadism are unsettling.
Most of the novel deals with the kidnapping of 16-year-old Mia Elston, daughter of a U.S. officer, and her torture (or “enhanced interrogation,” a la Guantanamo).
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The kidnappers videotape each brutal interrogation session, saying that to the United States such actions are “NOT TORTURE,” then broadcast it on the Internet.
At one point, they start live webcasting their sessions, starting with a recreation of the famous image from Abu Ghraib using a hooded Mia holding electrical wires.
Finally, it culminates.
“A title appeared. WATERBOARDING IS NOT TORTURE. AT 9 P.M. TONIGHT SHE WILL NOT BE TORTURED.
“There was a moment’s stunned silence, followed by a sound that came from the throats of every single person in the room — a kind of murmured gasp, a collective groan of despair that was also an acknowledgement that this had been always going to happen, if they failed to find her.
“And now they had failed, for it was upon them.”
The police and the world watch it live.
Like in the earlier novel, Holt does a good job of winding the personal lives and stories of all his characters with the major story. Tapo is living through the aftermath of having an affair with her male superior and dealing with the sexist consequences. Boland has to deal with the military culture, and her own personal history. Barbo is slowly coming out of his computer-nerd shell but is still fragile. He is a less fully-realized character this time around.
Hopefully the next novel will have more about him, and less fascination with technology, torture and interrogation techniques, many gleaned from authentic documents released to the American Civil Liberties Union in 2009.
Holt uses computer technology, social media and military jargon skillfully in service to his plotting, but the real fascination in the series is with the online world of Carnivia.
And there isn’t enough of it.
“The Abduction” by Jonathan Holt; HarperCollins, NY (457 pages, $26.99)