Thursday, November 12, 2009
Donna Leon, About Face
I thought I was catching up with Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series but while reading her 2009 About Face I discovered that there's an even newer 2009 title, A Sea of Troubles. But that gives me another Brunetti to look forward to. About Face ranks with the best of the series: it's a tragedy, as so many of them are, but in this case there is a very particular echo with the classical world that Brunetti often retreats to in the books he likes to read. As usual, his complicated relationship with Paola, his wife, and her aristocratic family is central to the story, which seems to be moving in several directions (concerning the ongoing Italian garbage crisis, investments in China, a mysterious friend of Paola's mother, conflicts with the Carabinieri over jurisdiction in a couple of murder cases, and intrigues within the Questura (the police station) in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Venice where Brunetti works: Leon's plotting is sophisticated enough, though, that though she brings the threads into proximity she resists the impulse to tie everything up in a neat bow. The tragedy is not only the murder plot, with its classical echo, but also the entire social, legal, and political situation of Venice and Italy.
Though frequently funny, Leon's novels are always melancholy, a most suitable mood for a story so embedded in the fading glory of the serene city--and as usual Brunetti is an excellent tour guide for we the readers as he makes his way through the unique setting (evoked in quite different ways by the three covers I've pasted into this post, from the American, Australian, and English editions). Leon's novels are perhaps not to everyone's taste, in the melancholy tone and plotting, but she is a unique voice in the crime-fiction world and perhaps no crime writer is as well suited to portray her chosen city.