Review: The Abduction

abduction

The Abduction (The Carnivia Trilogy Book 2)
by Jonathan Holt
Published by Harper
464 pages
Genre: mystery
4.5 / 5

Summary from Goodreads:

An unlikely trio must form an alliance to save a kidnapped young girl and untangle a nefarious plot that reaches back decades.

Second Lieutenant Holly Boland is an intelligence analyst trained to look for clues ordinary investigators miss. When a U.S. army officer’s daughter is kidnapped from an American base in Venice, Holly is sure that the mysterious abductors want more than a ransom.

Venetian police captain Kat Tapo has found a webcam feed embedded in the encrypted website Carnivia.com, a virtual Venice. It streams video of a terrified teenage girl, hooded and tied to a chair. A strand of text scrolls across the screen: “Sensory deprivation is not torture.” Is the girl the missing daughter of the American military officer? Who is behind the cryptic message?

Daniele Barbo, the genius webmaster and creator of Carnivia, has never let the government access his servers, and finding the missing girl is not his problem. But then secrets from Italy’s dark wartime past begin to surface-revelations that could put them all in danger. To save his own skin, Daniel must decide how far he’s willing to let them in.

In a race against time, Holly, Kat, and Daniel must find the shocking truth . . . or watch as more than one innocent life is sacrificed.

My Review:

At the end of Holt’s The Abomination, the first in the Carnivia trilogy, Kat Tarpo and Aldo Piola have faced the fallout of their affair, and Kat has decided to file charges of harassment against her boss and lover. American Holly Boland has helped them crack a case, and the three go about their lives.

The Abduction picks up a few months afterwards. Kat has been ostracized by her coworkers, blamed for accusing the beloved Piola of any impropriety. She was a willing participant, wasn’t she? How can she charge him with anything when she was fully aware, all along, that he was (a) married and (b) her superior? Kat is nothing if not hard-headed, though, and she resists questioning her decision.

When a new case falls to her, she attacks it as she does everything in her life: with no inhibition and full belief that she will be successful.

As the daughter of a high-ranking US military official stationed in Venice, teenaged (and sheltered) Mia is an easy target. She’s anxious to break free from her father’s watchful eye and experience life. That the Italians are none too pleased to have an American military presence completely escapes her, as it would most teenagers. She wants to smoke, drink, and maybe have sex. She yearns to just be free.

Similarly, Holly craves freedom, even if she doesn’t know what form it should take or even from what she wants to be free. She’s a proud American who was raised in Italy. She’s staunchly patriotic, yet she acknowledges her country’s faults in Italy. Yes, she loves being in the military, but she feels constrained. While she enjoys abiding by military precision, she wants something … different.

Also returning is Daniele Barbo, a kidnapping and torture victim who has created interactive website Carnivia. When Mia goes missing, Kat and Holly ask Daniele for help, and the three are reunited. Also, meanwhile, pursues an apparently unrelated case of a skeleton found on the base.

What is fascinating about this book is the way Jonathan Holt takes the American treatment of POWs and uses it to propel his story. He also makes a point about what is torture and what isn’t, but we’ll get to that in a little bit. His primary focus is on Mia’s kidnapping, taking us from one “experience” to another. Her kidnappers are intent on showing just how cruel Americans are, not just in how they treat their prisoners, but in how they are treating Italy. One begets the other.

The bad guys go step-by-step through the interrogation manual (so to speak) that guided how the US military handled prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Mia is waterboarded, sleep deprived, nearly starved, and struck harshly. Her abductors videotape each, airing the tapes through Carnivia. As Mia reacts to each ill treatment, we get a deeper, more affecting understanding of how torturous non-torture can be.

As Kat, Holly, Daniele, and Aldo race to free her, the mystery deepens and widens. Who is behind Mia’s abduction? What is their purpose? What do they hope to achieve? Can she be saved?

Holt writes with taut precision, keeping you riveted and turning the pages. There is quite a bit of history here as well, which helps us better understand the Italian (and international) perspective of US military encroachment and intervention. There is also some background on the Catholic church and its role in world events and wars.

I love – and I do mean love – the way Jonathan Holt writes. I can’t wait for the third installment, and the romantic in me wants Kat reunited with Aldo. Both of his books cast an unflattering eye on the United States military (and political) machine, and I wondered if Holt wasn’t making a point about that as well. So I did what any curious reader would do: I sent him a message, asking him about casting Americans as the bad guys and if he was concerned about a perceived anti-American bias.

Mr. Holt kindly replied, and here is what he said:

When I started writing the Carnivia trilogy I really didn’t know a lot about US Cold War foreign policy, other than that in Italy there had been some kind of secret anti-communist army called Gladio that was set up by NATO. It sounded like good background for a conspiracy thriller, so I stole it. But as I did more research, I became more and more amazed by the things the US had done in Italy in order to keep the communists out of government. From letting the mafia out of the prisons where Mussolini had put them, to creating and bankrolling newspapers and political parties, to recruiting or bribing government ministers or Vatican officials, there was almost nothing they wouldn’t do.

So on one level, I was just thinking ‘Wow, this is great material’. But on another, I was genuinely surprised by the extent of the US’s interference in the democratic process of a sovereign country.

Now, you could argue that Italy was already so chaotic, and so corrupt, that it needed to be interfered with. Or you could argue that the chaos and corruption partly stemmed from the interference.

I try, as a thriller writer, not to take sides in the debate, only to milk it for drama… and of course, the parallels between ‘the war on communism’ and ‘the war on terrorism’ also make for some thought-provoking plotlines.

All of which is a longwinded way of saying that I really hope my books don’t come across as anti-US, just as interesting and topical. THE ABDUCTION actually ends with one character admitting to another, an ex-CIA agent, that he jumped to an anti-American conclusion at one point which turned out to be wrong. But where I find a good fact that reveals how the most powerful country in the world operates, I use it.

And thank goodness he does.

If you enjoy a gripping mystery and exceptional writing, you will love The Carnivia Trilogy. And you will join me in anxiously awaiting the third one. You may even join me in hoping that Aldo and Kat realize they belong together (that’s a hint to Jonathan Holt, by the way).

Light up the comments and let me know what you think of this fantastic series.

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