Posts Tagged ‘Venice’

THE TEMPTATION OF FORGIVENESS by Donna Leon: Book Review

Long a tourist mecca, Venice conjures up beautiful visions of stunning architecture and elegant bridges crossing calm canals.  But there’s an ugly underside to the “Queen of the Adriatic,” a city rife with corruption and a populace who seems to be either uncaring or else committed to the belief that nothing they do will change the situation.

Guido Brunetti, commissario at the city’s Questura di Venezia, knows every canal and street in his beloved city.  Sadly, nothing about Venice shocks him any longer, and he is beginning to feel that the police have become almost totally ineffective.  So when Professoressa Crosera comes to him with a problem she can barely articulate, he finds himself not as sympathetic as he thinks he should be.

The professor is a member of the university’s architecture department, the same college where Guido’s wife Paola teaches literature.  The two women are colleagues rather than friends, but Guido has met the professor before.  After a great deal of hesitation, she finally asks Brunetti if it is a crime to purchase drugs.  He tells her it is not, that the crime is selling them, and she seems slightly reassured.  She is fearful that her teenage son is using drugs, but she has no definite proof and appears not to want to find any.

Probing more deeply, Brunetti asks her why she has come to the Questura, what she would like the police to do, and he is surprised by the simplicity of her response.  “Find out whose selling him these drugs.  And arrest them.”  And Guido thinks to himself, if only it were that easy.

Several days later Professoressa Crosera’s husband is brutally attacked on the Ponte del Forner.  Did it have something to do with the drugs that he and his wife believe their son is using, or is it a different matter entirely?  Street crime is so rare in Venice that the former seems much more likely, but Brunetti and his colleagues are getting nowhere by focusing on that aspect of the  investigation.

The Temptation of Forgiveness is Donna Leon’s twenty-seventh book featuring Commissario Guide Brunetti, his family, and his fellow officers at the Questura.  The incredible sense of place that is in all the novels is understandable when the reader knows that Ms. Leon lived in Venice for thirty years.  Brunetti’s humanity shines through in all the books, but it is obvious that he has reached a point in his life where his optimism is greatly tempered with reality and his knowledge that many of the problems that confront the citizens of the city are beyond his ability, or that of anyone’s, to remedy.

The final two pages of The Temptation of Forgiveness are among the most moving I have ever read.

You can read more about Donna Leon at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY by Donna Leon: Book Review

I want to go to Italy.  I want to go to Venice.  And I definitely want to read more Guido Brunetti mysteries.

I had seen Donna Leon’s mysteries in my local library and on bookstore shelves many times, but somehow I never picked one up.  I love novels that take me to faraway places, and I knew that this series was set in Venice; nevertheless, I passed them by and found other books to read.

A few months ago, a close friend and mystery connoisseur recommended the series to me.  I promised myself I would get one the next time I had a chance, and returning home this weekend from New York City I bought a copy of Through A Glass, Darkly and read it on the train back to Boston.  My only regret is coming to the series so late because it’s obvious that Guido Brunetti has had a long life as a member of the Venetian police department.  At this point in the series he has a wife and two children, and I wish I could have met him earlier in his career and gotten to know him at an earlier age.   Well, better late than never, and I plan to go back to Venice and spend more time with Signore Brunetti.

As the story open one of his colleagues asks Brunetti to meet with a friend of his who has been arrested in a demonstration outside a factory in Venice.  The police are eager to release the man as no charges have been filed against him, and when the three men exit the police station they are accosted by the man’s irate, out-of-control father-in-law.  The father-in-law hates his son-in-law and has been heard to threaten his life.

A second thread is the story of a worker in the father-in-law’s factory whose daughter suffered severe birth defects.  Is it, as the man believes, that the defects were caused by poisons discharged into the water by the factory owner, or is the truth that the father, in his insistence on a home birth against the advice of doctors, is responsible for his daughter’s physical and mental condition?

Is there an Italian word for mensch? This Yiddish word literally means a man, but it has come to mean someone who is good, kind, caring, empathic.  All those words fit the commissario.  Brunetti’s interactions with his wife and children are beautiful to behold.  No loner, no tough-talking cop, Brunetti is a warm man trying to do a difficult job.  It’s obvious that there are several recurring characters in this series whom the reader would enjoy meeting again and again, but that does not include his sly, out-for-himself superior officer, Vice-Questore Patta.

Ms. Leon’s descriptions of Venice make the reader want to hop on the next plane and rush to the canals of the city.  The food, too, is described wonderfully, and the love of the author for her adopted city comes through.  Through A Glass, Darkly is the fifteenth novel in a series that now numbers nineteen.  I look forward to meeting Comissario Brunetti again.

You can find out more about the author at http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/minisites/donnaleon.