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I was looking at the list of books that have been written by Donna Leon the other day, and realised there were a couple I still hadn't tried. So with that in mind when I was in my local bookshop the other day I looked for them and found this one while the other one was out of stock. I decided immediately to purchase it and couldn't wait to get it home and read it.
==About the author:==
Donna Leon has a passion for her adopted country Italy since her first visit there in 1965. She has lived in Venice for the past 20 years and the love of the place is demonstrated beautifully in her writing. Her crime novels feature Commisssario Brunetti as her investigating officer. So far she has written 18 of these with this one I am reviewing was written in 1997.
==Synopsis of the Novel:==
Commissario Guido Brunetti is in charge of the Police Questura while his boss Vice-Questore Patta is on his second honeymoon. Things are very quiet with only petty crime such as burglary and pick pocketing to keep him and his staff busy. He sees it as an opportunity to catch up on his paperwork and spend more of his free time with his family.
His peace is interrupted however when a plain looking middle aged woman calling herself Maria Testa plays him a visit. He knows he recognises her but just can't place her, until she introduces herself properly. She was until quite recently working as a Nun and she was looking after his mother in her rest home. She was very popular with the elderly residents and even Brunetti's mother liked and trusted her, which impressed Brunetti.
She advised him that over the past three months there had been a number of unexpected deaths at the home and no one would discuss it with her there. Brunetti agrees to look into it more as a favour than anything else. However her suspicions soon become his as he uncovers sinister goings on with dangerous implications for them both.
==My thoughts on the book:==
Anyone who knows me or even those who have read some of my reviews will know that Donna Leon is one of my favourite authors. However, that said it doesn't blind me to her faults. This for me was a poor example of her work and a book I would not recommend this to anyone but her ardent die hard fans.
Now I have read all but one of her excellent novels and I usually revel in her storyline and the mystery that unravels within it. The problem was I found this book very slow to get started, as nothing really seemed to happen until nearly half way through the book, nothing inspired me or grabbed my attention.
I expected a riveting read as I had come to expect from her. I thought it was very promising from the title of the book and the short but interesting summary on the back of the book. For me is brought a variety of ideas to mind and my mouth watered at some of those prospects.
However I was astonished that nothing was happening in the early chapters of the book. Donna Leon does tend to slowly build up momentum in her novels but on this one initially there was no momentum at all. The quality of her writing was still there in her great descriptions but not a lot else. I even wondered if maybe I had got the wrong end of the stick and this was just a novel about the mundane side of Police work in Venice.
The story did finally start to improve as it finally started to develop especially when death and secret societies were involved. But for me it still lacked the spark that captured my imagination. I found the lack of proof or evidence difficult to swallow. And Brunetti's belief that there was something going on without it surprising, given the amount of time wasters the Police must get.
I did enjoy the book towards the end of it as the pace of the investigation increased and there was more mystery and suspense involved. Only at this point did the investigating officer seem to make progress in his investigation and my mind was being challenged with new ideas and exciting situations.
Having finally captured my interest, the conclusion was somewhat frustrating, but this I have noticed once or twice before in this authors work. I think this is because she is a more realistic than many other authors. She does not feel the need to make things neat and tidy while having the happy ever after ending. I do admire her for this as I find it refreshing honest but at the same time frustrating. I like a complete story and for me it just wasn't finished of to my satisfaction.
What really kept me going through this novel was as always with this author the quality of her writing. She is very thorough when describing or setting a scene as a result of this I feel I have a real flavour of Venice. Not only the wonderful architecture but also the less popular and more run down parts of the city, which she is never afraid to document and expose.
That and the very enjoyable scenes involving Brunetti and his family. These are always fascinating and it is lovely to see him as the family man rather than a Police officer. However in this novel there was less humour in his home life and it all seemed far more tense and serious. The humour and the fun I associate with his family was missing and it made for a far more sober read.
What you can be guaranteed every time every time you read a Donna Leon book featuring Brunetti is a very interesting, well-defined lead character. Brunetti is not the most dynamic detective ever, but he has so many interesting facets to his personality. Leon always gives this character consistency and values that most people can admire, respect and relate to and as such for me he is a modern day hero.
Again it is the quality of the support characters that is very enjoyable in these books. There were many interesting and sometimes funny interplays between Brunetti and his fellow Police Officers. These characters appear in all the books and you get to know and either like or dislike as the case maybe their personalities. It was a shame for me that his Commanding Officer Patta was away, as I particularly enjoy their very tense relationship and their scenes together of often both eye opening and funny.
That said I did find in this novel the other support characters that will only appear in this story quite disappointing. They were difficult to remember and without depth that I have come to expect from Leon's writing. I thought she really had an opportunity this an unusual secret society to make some strong, bold characters but they were not dealt with in enough detail, instead it was Brunetti and his wife's reaction to one of their meeting that they gatecrashed.
This is book six in the series but to be honest it doesn't matter if you where to read this novel first or last. You do not feel you have missed anything and each story does not refer to previous ones. You just learn a little bit more about all the characters personalities and the new situations they are involved in every time.
The books length was longer than the usual length this author employs. This for me was a mistake as the novel only really started getting interesting from halfway onwards when the investigation started progressing. It was broken up superbly by wonderful use of chapters, changing each scene at just the right time.
I think this novel is one to avoid in the Donna Leon series of books. Despite the good quality and style of her writing the story never really got going and failed to capture my imagination. For my money she has written far better books and I would recommend them instead of this one. Obviously still a must for this author's fan such as me, but still one of her weakest stories and one that fails to inspire and even get going.
Publisher: Pan Books
About the author: www.donnaleon.co.uk
Thanks for reading my review as always.
This review is published on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my user name.
CPTDANIELS June 2009