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by Donna Leon
Heinemann, March 2004
288 pages
ISBN: 0434010669

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Donna Leon does not wish to be famous. She values her privacy and anonymity; thus, despite her popularity in other countries, her books have not been translated into Italian. Nevertheless, her baker's dozen of tales has garnered her something of a cult following throughout the world, a following that will rejoice to see this, her latest Guido Brunetti adventure, DOCTORED EVIDENCE, released.

It is quite a few years now since Commissario Guido Brunetti entered centre stage in Leon's first novel, DEATH AT LA FENICE. The book was written in a lighthearted spirit, almost by accident. It is well for the world of crime fiction that Leon did not relinquish the popular protagonist, leaving him to star in a sole role.

Brunetti is on vacation when Dottor Carlotti goes to make his weekly call on Maria Grazia Battestini. The good doctor is horrified to find his unpleasant patient has been murdered. Lieutenant Scarpa, Brunetti's perpetual enemy, is given the case and is quite content that the malefactor has been suitably punished when his suspect, a Romanian woman, Florinda Ghiorghiu, who worked for Battestini, is killed by a train as she flees frontier police. Scarpa is annoyed when Signora Gismondi, recently returned from an intensive English course in London, comes to his office and tells him that it would not have been possible for the Romanian woman, Flori, to have killed the widow.

Brunetti, newly returned from vacation, takes up the case and, convinced by Signora Gismondi of the maid's innocence, seeks to identify the murderer. As usual, he is helped by Vianello, now an inspector, and Signorina Elettra, the computer maven and near-omniscient secretary to Vice-Questore Patta. The Commissario is forced to employ less than ethical stratagems in order to investigate but is, of course, working against the titanic forces of corruption in Venice's high officialdom. He uncovers a motive which may have caused Battestini's death despite her oft-stated belief in the protection of the Madonna.

As usual, Brunetti's official work is mirrored by things happening in his domestic life. Paola, his lecturer wife (who could almost be seen as a mirror image of Donna Leon herself) causes Guido to brood on the motive for the murder as embodied in the seven deadly sins, in which his daughter, Chiara, is being instructed at school. The uxorious (yes, the author has used the word which has been absent from her books for many years) Commissario is grateful for the insight Paola's reading has given him yet he is distressed by flaws in his own character which temporarily set him at odds with his friend and ally, Vianello.

The story is as elegant and involving as readers are accustomed to expect from Leon, who seems unable to pen inferior work. As usual, her depiction of Venice can almost convince the reader that he or she has actually seen that watery city. Leon always manages to make her points without resorting to gruesome pictures of the results of graphic violence or equally, perhaps, gruesome depictions of graphic sex. This little masterpiece can only make readers anxious for the appearance of the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, April 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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