Ashes in Venice, The Year’s Best Psychological Thriller

The Bottom Line: Unpredictable, brilliantly crafted and deliriously unhinged, we can’t get enough of Ashes in Venice, and you won’t either.

Gojan Nikolich’s Ashes in Venice is many things, among them revenge thriller, police procedural and darkly comic commentary on the state of criminal justice. The novel begins with a murder scene strongly reminiscent of Dexter. Based on the precision with which he dispenses his own brand of meticulously prescribed justice, it’s clear that Jasper Colt is a seasoned serial killer, and that his motivation, which Nikolich reveals gradually throughout the novel, may be noble.

In many ways, the story seems to belong to Colt, whose background in government work for the FBI and the Center for Disease Control gives him a unique perspective on law enforcement and humanity itself. But if Colt is an antihero, then Nikolich blesses us with a proper hero in Detective Sergeant Francis Savic. Like so many fictional detectives, he’s on the brink of retirement and also dealing with significant personal trauma. But Frank turns out to be a true original. He’s a gifted detective, a charismatic biker and is so fond of profanity that his boss thinks he may be developing Tourette syndrom.

The way in which Nikolich makes both men aware of each other is a thing of beauty. For example, Colt, who is also a skilled hacker, hilariously observes that Savic has “developed a bad habit of clicking on any enticing website or renegade phishing e-mail offering financial advice and/or pre-owned motorcycle parts and sales that caught his fancy.” The eventual result is a rare manhunt in which antihero and hero are both predator and prey.

Throughout, Nikolich’s wordcraft is nothing short of jaw-dropping. From his urban landscapes in the opening chapter, the laugh-out-loud descriptions of bodies both alive and dead, the storytelling sparkles. Nikolich delivers an absurdly high number of lines in which most writers could simply drop the mic and walk away. Fortunately for us, he saves the book’s most profound insight for the very last sentence. Bravo.

Bella Wright

Bella Wright blogs about books, film and media.

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