The Waters of Eternal Youth – Donna Leon

Commissario Brunetti’s wife’s family are part of Venetian high society. So it is not unusual that our hero occasionally finds himself forced to attend social events in which he has little interest. But, ever the gentleman, he participates with apparent willingness, an easy smile, and constant inward reflection. Following on from one such society dinner, his hostess – Contessa Lando-Continui, a friend of his mother-in-law – asks for his help. In her advancing years, the Contessa is increasingly troubled by the sad state of her granddaughter, Manuela. The girl was rescued from drowning, but suffered severe brain damage and lives out her life like a young child, the eternal youth of the book’s title. She cannot remember what happened. But the Contessa believes there must be an explanation, and wants Brunetti to get to the bottom of it.

Opening up an old case with no good reason is typically challenging fare for Brunetti, and it is a challenge he rises to, using his long experience of the system, and his deep understanding of how his boss thinks. Brunetti starts investigating, recruiting a sympathetic fellow policewoman to help him connect to Manuela, thus beginning and developing a friendship that assists the police to slowly make some progress.

While this is ongoing, the backdrop of modern Venice, with all its corruption, cronyism, and peculiarities, are portrayed as lovingly as the central character is. Brunetti’s family are also neatly sketched stars in their own right, offering a clear contrast to the world around them.

This is a fine, gentle, yet powerful book that shows yet again one of the greatest fictional detectives in all his glory.

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