Friday, November 21, 2008
Grace Brophy, A Deadly Paradise
First, the second book in Grace Brophy's "Commissario Cenni" novels set in Umbria is better than the first one, The Last Enemy (which I reviewed here some time ago). A Deadly Paradise is set mostly in and around Perugia, with excursions to Venice and Rome, and the Italian setting is evoked effectively, without overdoing the local color. Cenni's bristly personality is also effective, and his interaction with other police is mostly with his assistant, Elena, and his boss (a typical grasping and ambitious Questore, or top cop, from so many police detective novels). But I had difficulty getting involved very much in the plot itself: the victim and her circle all are believable characters but unpleasant without quite rising to actual evil. Nazi counterfeit pound notes are dragged into it, along with Venetian aristocrats, the Red Brigades, several cats, nosy neighbors, a hermaphrodite, and a romance sub-plot regarding the Commissario's long-lost girlfriend (glimpsed, of course, from the deck of a passing vaporetto on the Grand Canal). It's actually not quite as overheated as my list suggests, and for long passages the story is entertaining and colorful; but as the main plot crept toward its conclusion, I find that I just didn't care who the murderer was, who got the dying aristocrat's money, or whether Cenni gets to pursue that elusive former lover or has to wait for the next novel in the series. What Brophy has in mind, I think, is a combination of Donna Leon's Brunetti series and Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano series, of Venice and Sicily respectively--but in both those cases the complex plots wind inexorably to a satisfying resolution (whether justice is served or not). Brophy's story doesn't have that quality of inevitability nor the dailiness of a procedural's investigation. Comparing this series to those of Leon and Camilleri may not quite be fair, and Brophy's Umbria is certainly coming alive in this book--but I didn't get that sense of regret and satisfaction that finishing a Commissario Montalbano can provide, nor the sense of almost gleeful pessimism about the elusiveness of justice that Leon often serves up in her conclusions. I'm interested to see where Brophy goes from here, though.