Donna Leon writes high quality crime books set in Venice and this recent paperback release is no exception. The quality comes from a number of factors – the setting, the appeal of the central character (Commissario Brunetti) and his family, the carefully structured plot – all wrapped up in great writing. There are some authors who can deliver setting, characterization and plot in a package that is tame, turgid and terrible. Donna Leon, however, is an author who has consistently delivered writing that flows, is easy to read, and simultaneously tells a fine, multi-faceted story; in short, a polished performance in print.

The central crime in this novel is the murder of the local courthouse usher which brings Brunetti back early from his holiday. The secondary plot is about a colleague’s aunt who has come under the spell of a mystery man. In and around these situations, Leon crafts twists and tails a plenty. She also does it in a rich atmosphere that transports the reader to (presumably) her beloved Venice. And, through her characters, there’s a wealth of razor sharp commentary on society, life and death.

For example, here’s Brunetti’s wife – a source of comfort and stability to her intrepid husband – sticking the boot in, good and proper:

“We in the West. Our generation. The workers’ paradise. Brothers under Socialism. Whatever nonsense we wanted to spout to show our parents that we didn’t like their choices in life….To think I voted Communist. Of my own free will, I voted for them.”

Or, how about this cutting piece of Brunetti’s thinking:

“…reluctant to believe in the integrity of a lawyer until he had direct experience of the person.”


In short: highly recommended.

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