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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