Oh Donna Leon, I wish I knew how to quit you.
Seriously guys, I can’t fully explain what keeps me coming back to her books. The mysteries are never as good as the synopses make them sound, the stories are full of useless filler scenes to increase the page count, Guido Brunetti’s investigative technique is less “actual investigating and action scenes” and more “doing lots of phone interviews”, and none of it is terribly riveting.
But then again: Venice. The setting is what makes these books. The way Leon knows and understands this city – the people, the geography, the politics, the overall feel of Venice – is nothing short of intimate, and no matter how lackluster her actual stories can be, I always enjoy seeing Venice through her eyes. I just wish the mysteries were a little better.
This one’s not too bad, all things considered. The story starts when the partially-decomposed body of a young man is found in a shallow grave on farmland outside the city. Found on the body: a ring with the crest of an old noble Venetian family. The body is identified as Roberto Lorenzoni, who was kidnapped two years before. Brunetti suspects that the original kidnapping may have been orchestrated by someone within the family, and starts digging into the Lorenzoni’s dirty secrets.
It could have been a lot more explosive, as far as I’m concerned – characters were so reluctant to say definitively that the body was Roberto that I was hoping the big twist would be that the body wasn’t him and that he had pulled a Harriet Vangar and switched places with a relative, but unfortunately this did not happen. Pointless scenes with Brunetti’s family still intrude on the investigation (this time, we get an in-depth look at the daughter learning to make ravioli) but they are at least slightly relevant here, because the scenes make Brunetti consider what would happen if it was one of his children who had gone missing, so it at least connected to the main storyline. Less relevant is the two-page conversation he has with a colleague about insurance plans, but we can’t have everything.
The solution to the mystery and ending are, in typical Leon fashion, less than satisfying, but at least this time Brunetti figures everything out on his own instead of having the solution handed to him by someone else. So altogether, not a terrible installment of the Brunetti adventures. Just the usual sense that something is missing.