Jan. 10, 2021
reviewed by Andrew Smith
For the thirtieth time Donna Leon takes us to Venice, with its multitude of picturesque canals and grand palazzos, but also its hidden criminal underbelly. This is the working patch of Commissario Guido Brunetti, a senior policeman who was brought up in this unique place, and who still lives and works in the city.
Regular readers will be used to the fact that these books profile the place, its ways, and its people as much as any investigation Brunetti is engaged in—and in fact it sometimes takes a while to figure out precisely what crime is to be the focus of Guido’s attentions.
This time he is alerted to the fact that two injured and unconscious American girls have been left on the dock of the city hospital in the dead of night. Cameras at the hospital have caught the act and it isn’t long before two young local men have been identified as the perpetrators. But why would they do such a thing—is it simply the result of a reckless accident whilst joy riding or is there something darker going on here?
It seems that the Commissario’s case load is light at present as he’s able to devote virtually his full attention to this case, aided by his colleague Claudia Griffoni. Claudia has made regular appearances in recent instalments and the fact that she is a native of the southern city of Naples provides an ideal vehicle for the author to explore the potential for suspicion and discord between people from the different regions of this culturally diverse country. It’s not that Guido and Claudia aren’t friends – they are – it’s just that one has the benefit of being able to chatter away to the locals in Veneziano whilst the other is perceived to be a shifty Neapolitan, unworthy of the same degree of trust.
In between regular breaks for a coffee, and perhaps a brioche or too, Brunetti and Griffoni gradually come to realize that there are significant nefarious acts lurking in the shadows of this case. As always, Leon is able to bring a strong sense of local color to proceedings. This is not a hundred miles an hour kick ass and solve the crime caper, it takes a slower, more mellow route. Along the way there is plenty of discussion about family, nepotism, love and loyalty and how these elements impact the way life is lived in this city, but make no mistake this tale still packs a significant punch. As the pieces finally fall into place we’re treated to an exciting and, to me, shocking finale.
If you’re in the mood for a thoughtful dose of detective fiction with a bit of culture mixed in, look no further.