Abomination has multiple meanings in Christianity, but for the purposes of this story, it begins with the discovery of the body of a woman in priests’ clothing at the Santa Maria della Salute, one of Venice’s landmarks. The woman had been executed, shot twice in the head.
As it turns out, the woman worked as a priest, though not in the eyes of the Vatican, which has long rejected women priests and shows no sign of wavering. But the Church is not responsible for the woman’s death.
There is a greater abomination, one that involves the transportation of young women - girls, actually - from Croatia into Italy for the purposes of prostitution. This abomination, though it involves the Mafia, also has roots in the involvement of the CIA and units of the U.S. military in the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
The chief protagonist is Katerina “Kat” Tapo, a captain in the Carabinieri; she is an intrepid, if still green, investigator. Also important are her direct superior, Col. Aldo Piola, and a couple of Americans. One is 2nd Lt. Holly Boland, an Army brat who grew up in Italy and has been assigned to Camp Ederle, not far from Venice.
The other is Ian Gilroy, a semi-retired CIA section chief, who knew Holly’s father when the Bolands were stationed at Camp Darby near Pisa. Yet another key figure in the story is Daniele Barbo, a Venetian from a wealthy family who was kidnapped and mutilated as a child. Hardly outgoing, he has become a computer genius and has created an online world called Carnivia.com. It is an exact duplicate of Venice, and it’s a place where users wear Carnivale masks to hide their identity and enjoy communication that’s protected by encryption.
While Kat Tapo is investigating the murder of the woman in priest’s garb, Lt. Boland finds herself speaking with an American activist demanding access to U.S. documents from the wars on the Yugoslav peninsula.
Foremost for her is collecting data to assist the prosecution at the Hague in the trial of a Croation general named Dragon Korovik. He has been charged with various war crimes, including ethnic cleansing and sponsoring rape on a large scale.
Lt. Boland turns to Gilroy, the retired spy, for assistance, only later realizing that the two of them don’t have quite the same purposes. Mostly, though, it is Capt. Tapo and Lt. Boland who work together, learning not just about a female priest, who was invaluable to some of the young Croat girls, but even traveling to Croatia to pursue their investigations - investigations that had become interwoven.
The two female investigators’ obstacles include sexism both in the Caribinieri and the U.S. military, traditional priests who know more about the presence of female priests than they’ll tell, and an Italian prosecutor who’s interested in burnishing his own image, even if it means playing by the rules of organized crime.
There’s a lot going on in “The Abomination,” but the author, Jonathan Holt, does a good job of keeping readers oriented. He also has developed plausible characters who encounter failure and disappointment as well as success.
According to his website, Holt, who graduated from Oxford, worked as a mailman, wrote brochures and became a successful writer of commercials before taking on “The Abomination.” He envisions it as book one in a trilogy, but his first effort stands alone quite well.
Walt Braun is the Mercury’s editorial page editor.