Thursday, June 2, 2011

Donna Leon tackles sexual abuse in her new Guido Brunetti

If you take reading recommendations, like I do, from Marilyn Stasio’s crime fiction column in the New York Times Book Review, then you will have happened upon Donna Leon’s mysteries before now. This is my first, however, and I am happy to see that there are eleven earlier novels with the same central characters.

Drawing Conclusions

Donna Leon’s latest Guido Brunetti mystery, Drawing Conclusions (256 pages, Atlantic Monthly Press, $24), deals with the death of an elderly widow in her quiet Venice apartment. She is discovered by an upstairs neighbor who has returned from holiday. This neighbor finds her body when she enters the apartment looking for her mail. Something tells her to call the police, rather than the hospital, and Brunetti happens to be nearby and was therefore the first to examine the body.

He also suspects there is something more than meets the eye. The coroner won’t commit himself either way, but he says just enough to leave Brunetti with the conclusion that a murder has been committed.

The dead woman’s son, a veterinarian from somewhere outside Venice, is rather closed when Brunetti questions him; and although he might not be hiding anything, he is really giving nothing away, either.

Brunetti also finds his way to an old age home, and there he interviews several
elderly men and women whom the deceased had spent time with before her death. She went regularly to the home to give these people companionship and someone to talk to. And while they may have talked to her, Brunetti has trouble getting anything out of them. Eventually, he gets enough, however, to lead him in another direction, which although promising at first, ends up at a dead end.

Leon is wonderful at creating a kind of Venetian sensibility, and we are party to Brunetti's endless unkind judgments about people from other parts of Italy. In his sometime supercilious-seeming Venetian manner, he also rubs folks from the south the wrong way too. That happens when he tries to question an elderly woman whose husband has requested that she have no visitors. Brunetti finds that his attempts to calm the husband lead to a hot-headed telling off, but in the process he begins to understand something that none of his questioning has enabled him to understand before.

Leon fills her narrative with the sights, sounds, and smells of Venice; and she brings in a rich range of secondary characters who enhance her tale and give it substance. She has a deft had at a mystery, and she brings everything together at the end with a satisfying swagger.

There is good reason why these Guido Brunetti mysteries are popular. Leon can tell a great story, and she has one of the most wonderful settings in the world.

Donna Leon

Drawing Conclusions is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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