Another winning story from Donna Leon. A book to curl up with and enjoy.
You have to hand it to Donna Leon. She has staying power. Since the first book about her Venetian detective, Guido Brunetti, appeared in 1992 there’s been a new novel published every year. And I’ve read and enjoyed them all.
Trace Elements is Book 29 in the series. Some of the original cast of characters have gone, or been given lesser roles, but Brunetti seems ageless and remains the pivot by which the plot unfolds.
In the first chapter he’s asked to visit a terminally ill patient at a hospice, who wants to speak to the police. The woman is young and dying of cancer, and her story is even more tragic because her husband was killed in a motorcycle accident only the month before.
She is hardly able to tell the police anything, only managing to gasp out fragments about money that had either been stolen or acquired illegally by her husband. These are the scraps with which Brunetti and his colleague, Griffoni, have to work. The traffic accident appears to be a straightforward hit-and-run, with no witnesses; and it’s more because of Brunetti and Griffoni’s sympathy for the man’s widow and soon-to-be-orphaned daughters that they pull at tiny threads of clues to discover what happened. Slowly but surely a crime is uncovered.
These novels are always interesting and enjoyable, although there is nothing frenetic about them. You are led gently by the hand through to the conclusion of the case and on the journey can enjoy the gentle humour, characters and location. (The descriptions of Venice are always wonderful.)
Systemic corruption is what underpins the crimes in these books and as the series has continued the stories have become more poignant. In recent years several have been about environmental crime, which is particularly dispiriting, and Brunetti and his colleagues are usually battling with big business or government to try and find the truth. Most of the time it seems as if their hands are tied and there’s a world-weariness about Brunetti that is easy to sympathise with. Years ago I read somewhere that Italy was the only European country which didn’t publish Leon’s books. I don’t know if this is still true but it’s easy to believe.
If I was asked to try and pin down what makes these books so readable, I think I’d have to settle for Leon’s writing style. The words flow gently around you, drawing you into the story. And there’s something almost poetic about Brunetti’s musings and the way he investigates. You feel you really do know him as a person.
These are good mystery novels, elegantly written and easy to read. The perfect sort of book to curl up with on a cold winter evening. And as Trace Elements is set during a heatwave in Italy there’s also the sunshine to dream about! 4.5 Stars.
Review by: Cornish Eskimo
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