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by Donna Leon
William Heinemann, March 2002
295 pages
15.99 GBP
ISBN: 0434009946

Donna Leon admits to enjoying life. She has taught in the United States, Iran, China and Saudi Arabia but now seems to appreciate the settled life she finds in Venice. Her protagonist, Commissario Guido Brunetti, made his debut in Leon's first novel, Death at La Fenice. While that book was more accidental than not, arising from a joke with a friend during a performance at the opera venue, as to how an unpleasant conductor could be disposed of, her subsequent books were far from accidental. Acqua Alta The Death of Faith, A Noble Radiance, Death in a Strange Country, The Anonymous Venetian, A Venetian Reckoning, Fatal Remedies, Friends in High Places and A Sea of Troubles have progressively served to increase the popularity of the still relatively unknown author and her unassuming, decent, uxorious, family oriented policeman hero.

Donna Leon has herself encountered the layers of corruption always present in the bureaucracy of Venice. No doubt her misadventures have proven fruitful in the construction of her novels for the pragmatic Brunetti is constantly finding himself enmeshed in problems associated with such venality. Doubtless, too, the author has based the character of Brunetti's wife Paola, together with issues she meets, on people and experiences from her own academic life. If it is possible to draw any conclusions about an author from the books she conceives, then I would say Donna Leon must be an exceedingly honest and pleasant woman.

In this episode of the life and times of Guido Brunetti, Paola is approached by one of her students, Claudia Leonardo. Claudia wishes to discover if it is possible to rehabilitate the reputation of her grandfather who had died in a madhouse many years previously after being found guilty of criminal behaviour. Brunetti speaks to the girl in an attempt to solve the problem but is later horrified to have to investigate the Claudia's murder. As usual, Brunetti is able to call upon the talents of his newly promoted friend Vianello, as well as those of the computing genius secretary Signorina Elettra. Leon's constant readers will no doubt be relieved to discover that Elettra is gradually recovering from the effects of the dangers inflicted upon her by the author in Brunetti's previous adventure A Sea of Troubles. As usual, Brunetti is chagrined to discover just how evil are the deeds committed by his fellow humans and, indeed, his fellow countrymen. There is a particular pathos inherent in the murder of a young, innocent and very well intentioned girl.

As always, Donna Leon treats us to an intriguing mystery well told and plotted. There are no absurd fireworks attendant upon the story, no circuitous plotting, unbelievable heroes or unconvincing Machiavellian villains. Simple, yet extremely clever and intuitive Brunetti is pitted against ordinary evil and commonplace villains all of which the reader might encounter in day to day life, yet the characterisation and narration of events lift the tale far beyond what could become banal in the hands of a less gifted writer.

Having said this, I would just like to touch on the fact that I discerned a certain unevenness in style of this particular book. Perhaps there was a change of editor. Whatever the reason, the prose did not flow quite as smoothly as in previous books and certain inexplicable errors (e.g. the use of 'she' when 'he' was intended) in grammar and sentence structure were apparent.

Despite these extremely minor faults, I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Donna Leon's newest tale, together with her very talented hero, to mystery aficionados everywhere as an absorbing and entertaining experience.

Editor¼s Note: 15.99 GBP translates to $24.00 US. The cost is Au$29.95 in Oz. This is another one you¼ll have to get from your favorite British bookstore. As always, we recommend Crime in Store (CrimeBks@aol.com) in London.

Reviewed by Denise Wels, May 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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