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by Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, March 2018
320 pages
ISBN: 0802127754

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I have often wondered if Donna Leon's name was destiny, since donna means lady in Italian, and her last name means lion. The lions are out there. This time the lions are parental love, and what is necessary, what is allowed, what is legal for a parent to do to protect a child. As in all the Commissario Brunetti novels, Venice, brooding over the human comedy, Venice watchful of the sea is always a main character.

Dramatis personae: Commissario Guido Brunetti, thoughtful, well-educated police inspector at the Venetian Questore, who is engaged in discussing Antigone with his wise spouse, all the while seeking perpetrators of crimes whose actions sometimes recall the central tensions of the Greek tragedy; Lieutenant Scarpa, he of the exquisite shoes and fluffy, stuffy mind; Vice-Questore Giuseppe Pata, equally a man of very little brain who is certain that an informant's identity has been leaked to the public; Sra Elettra, the Questore's administrative wonder whose skills in the realm of computers quite—transcends—the law, and who knows who leaked the informant's identity; Claudia Griffoni, Brunetti's coworker, a Neapolitan, with whom Brunetti continues a fruitful and educational badinage about the differences between Neapolitans and Venetians; Sra Crosera, academic, friend to Guido's spouse, mother of teen boy and concerned that her son is taking drugs; Sr Crosera, who has unaccountably turned up at the bottom of a Venetian bridge on a foggy night in a coma with a head injury; Dr. Donato, longtime pharmacist who offers strange discount coupons; Matilda Gasparini, Sr Crosera's aunt, victim of Alzheimer's Disease; Dr. Ruberti, who treats Sra Gasparini and other elders who have cognitive impairments requiring medication, mother of a child with disabilities; shady drug-sellers, competent and caring nurses, bumbling carabinieri, boatmen, citizens of Venice, and the buildings, water and bridges of Venice, which watch in silence.

Leon's mysteries are always welcome companions because they offer the intellect, as well as the heart, the food they crave. They remind the reviewer of Elizabeth's George's moody and thoughtful novels, which, although they serve a genre, do so in the fullest measure. In Leon's latest, Brunetti must concern himself with several crimes, all of which reveal the warp and weft of the populace, the authorities, and the web they inhabit.

In the first crime, the identity of a source used by the Questore has been leaked and the source has been rather badly used; in another, a cheating ring in which immigrants who can't speak or read Italian somehow pass their driver's licensing exam is broken; in the third, Sra Crosera brings her concerns about drugs being sold in the environs of schools; crime three-point-five, a telephone tipster who is probably a criminal himself awakens the police to the fact that the fish market sells fish that has—aged; in the fourth, Sr Crosera is found nearly dead of a head wound; in another, a small-time hood is caught (a small victory) but has in his possession photos of priceless art treasures (a recompense); in a sixth crime, a Muslim Eqyptian doctor has discovered that his daughter has e-mailed a Catholic Italian boy, and the daughter has been helped clear of this mortal coil; finally, surveillance cameras have picked up a ring of pilferers among the airline baggage handlers. Guido Brunetti concerns himself with all.

At the center of concern are two questions: to what degree might a parent cross the line of legality to secure the safety of a child? Finally, given human proclivities to bend the law in their favor, how can Brunetti continue to seek something called justice when most Italians, jaded with official laxity, do not believe that it can ever be reached?

§ C. Downs is Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where she teaches American literature and is a fan of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, February 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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