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I had know there was a new novel by one of my favourite author's Donna Leon for a while. I was hoping the library would stock it immediately but without luck. In the end I got frustrated waiting so I bought it on-line via one of the Internet book companies and could not wait to read the latest exploits of her Italian Crime Detective.
===About the author:===
Donna Leon has written in total 17 novels featuring Commissario Guildo Brunetti since her first back in 1992. The latest one was published in the fall of 2008 by this very popular international novelist. All her crime books are centred around Venice her home and provide the reader with a very interesting insight into the city, its culture and of course its people.
===Synopsis of the book:===
Commissario Brunetti is coming to terms with his mother's death, after years in a home he is dealing with feeling of guilt and letter her down. After a few days the Priest who conducted the service visits him in the office. He has been a family friend for many years and is concerned that a Christian Group called 'The Children of Jesus Christ' are swindling the most vulnerable people in their society out of the savings.
As Brunetti starts his investigation, he is called to the Grand Canal where a young girl's body is washed up. She had drowned and the only identity she has is a gold wedding ring and a broach. Despite the papers covering this no one admits to missing their young daughter. Brunetti is astonished and disappointed by this.
He finds it easier to track down the jewellery's owners than find her parents. They are surprised to receive the items back especially as they had never missed them. Finally information is received about the dead girl and Brunetti sets of for the gypsy camp to break the news of their daughter's death to the parents. Now he must find the truth as to what happened to her and how she drowned, while investigating this new and unsavoury cult.
===My thoughts on the book:===
On balance I enjoyed reading this latest book from Donna Leon. For me it was not half as good as some of her previous novels and I wondered if this one was a bit rushed in order to satisfy the demands of the Publishers or the Public. For me this one lacked some of the usual thought and depth that I have come to expect from this author.
I suppose a small part of it is my level of expectation. I had been looking forward to reading this one for a while so I probably expected too much. Yes the quality descriptions were still there of the wonderful city of Venice, as did I enjoy a more mean and moody Brunetti and his relationship with the gypsies. But for me the book was not a quality read that I had experienced before.
The book was not at all like I expected it to be. Initially it dealt with the death of Brunetti's mother. I thought the author dealt with this really well and explained all the feeling of regret and sadness at the death of a loved one. You could almost feel and sense it in all the man's words and actions. I found it a very revealing insight into him and made him appear more vulnerable and sensitive and I thought a very brave way to begin the first two chapters of any book.
However from this point for about the next 70 or so pages the story meandered along. The story concerning the Church and possible corruption was dull and lacked both direction and a sense of anything actually happening. I found this section really hard to get through, it neither interested me nor inspired me in any way what so ever, and it was tedious. I even considered giving up the book, which in almost unthinkable for a big fan of this author like me, but I persisted confident that it must improve.
The only enjoyable part from this section was a very humorous conversation that happened after Brunetti his wife Paulo and Inspector Vianello and his wife had attended a meeting of 'The Children Of Jesus Christ.' This was very well written and brightened up a very dull passage with sarcasm and wit that I really appreciated.
Luckily I continued as I was handsomely rewarded with a second investigation. This was far more interesting, very different and had the depth and thought behind it that I have come to expect from the author. It was classic Donna Leon stuff dealing with a difficult subject sensitively, while Brunetti sought to discover the truth.
It was such a contrast it made me wonder why she bothered with the earlier story at all as it lacked depth and substance. The only answer I could come up with, as the stories were not linked in any way was the 'real story' of the girls death was not considered long enough to publish on its own. So this second shorter story was included so it could be put out onto the market place. Cynical I know but that's my view on why it was done.
My advise to any reader would be like me stick with it, the second story is worth waiting for.
As the suspicious death of the unfortunate gypsy girl had all the qualities I enjoy about this authors work. It was full of interesting and diverse characters. It was a super unfolding story that required all of Brunetti's skill as a Detective to try and piece together exactly what happened. When no one else seemed to care about the fate of the dead girl and no-one wanted to talk to him.
When I picked up this book and read the title I thought instantly I knew whom this girl was that the title referred too. As I had observed the Detective in previous novels and I thought I had already spotted the girls of his dreams, but I was clearly mistaken. I had been reading something into it that didn't exist. This discovered I thought the author could have back up this title with a few more examples throughout the story. But I won't ruin it by letting the cat out of the cat here.
The novel was as usual full of mystery and suspense. Both stories had that element of pulling the pieces together to solve the puzzle. The second being markedly stronger as it was longer in content and presented more possibilities and the truth was not as straight forward as it initially seemed. As a result I was very keen to find out the truth and was surprised by it, when it last it did emerge.
Of the characters, Brunetti as always is the main one. I find his personality easy to like and feel you sure the sale ideologies as him. I found his relationship with his boss the Vice-Questore Patta to be as fascinating as ever, with Brunetti always keen to use all his skills to ensure his Boss did what he wanted him to do and then believe it was the senior man's idea all along.
I also enjoy the way the author incorporates his family in the story. Not directly in the investigation, but will bring in their family life in to lighten the mood for the novel. These scenes are always entertaining as his children grow up and test the boundaries set by their parents. These were admittedly less funny than usual as during this novel Brunetti was far more reflective in mood following his mother's death. To be honest I did think there was less humour in this novel and it almost felt like the author was grieving for the death of Brunetti's mother.
All the support characters were well described and easy to identify with. I would have liked to know more about the gypsies and for Brunetti to have got a little closer to them. But by distancing them she created more mystery about them and how they would deal with the situations that confronted them. I would like to have had more than just a glimpse of their lives, as they sounded fascinating and I'm sure this talented author could have created characters rich in depth and personality as she usually does.
The books pace was steady. Slow at first with the investigation into corruption as it involved a lot of information gathering. With the second story the pace was faster as Brunetti sort the truth and needed to move quickly, this culminated in an exciting conclusion. As with all Donna Leon books you always find the truth but sometimes you don't get the conclusion you want or expect. It probably called being honest and realistic.
What always impresses me about these books and this one is no exception is the honesty the author employs. She is not afraid to bring up controversial topics and talk about Italy (her home) full of corruption, bribery and prejudices. I think it is fantastic that she can do this, allowing the International reader to learn a little about the Politics of the place. I just wonder what the Italian's think of her doing this!
For me the length of the book was all wrong. The author should have expanded the story of the drowned little girl's investigation and got rid of the investigation into corruption. As I wanted to know so much more about the dead girl's life and I thought the author barely scratched the surface of it as I would have liked.
I found this novel very frustrating!! I really don't understand why the author created two so contrasting stories in terms of content and quality. The obvious answer would have been to expand the Gypsy story and cover this excellent story in the depth it richly deserved. I do not think I can personally recommend this book as I struggled with some of it and I am a big fan.
Price: £5.00 Paperback
Publisher: Arrow Books
For more information on the author: www.donnaleon.co.uk
Many thanks as always for reading my review.
This review is published on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my user name.
@CPTDANIELS July 2009.
On a rainy morning, not long after the funeral of his mother, Commissario Brunetti and Ispettore Vianello respond to a 911 call reporting a body floating near the steps in one of Venice's side canals. Reaching down to pull it out, Brunetti's wrist is caught by the silkiness of golden hair, and he sees a small foot - together he and Vianello lift a dead girl from the water. But, inconceivably, no one has reported a missing child, nor the theft of the gold jewellery that she carries.So Brunetti is drawn into a search not only for the cause of her death but also for her identity, her family, and for the secrets that people will keep in order to protect their children - be they innocent or guilty. The investigation takes Brunetti from the canals and palazzos of Venice to a Gypsy encampment on the mainland, through quicksands of connections and relationships both known and concealed, as he struggles with both institutional prejudice and entrenched criminality to try to unravel the fate of the dead child.