15 August 2009

Review: ABOUT FACE, Donna Leon

William Heinemann Australia, 2009, ISBN 9780434019441, 278 pages.

An invitation to dinner to meet some friends of his mother-in-law sees Commissario Guido Brunetti agreeing to investigate the background of another guest at the dinner party.
Maurizio Cataldo is a prosperous Venetian businessman who wants Brunetti's aristocratic father-in-law, the Conte Falier, to invest in a business venture in China. At the dinner party Brunetti sits opposite Cataldo's wife, Franca Marinello, charming company, but a woman who looks as if her last plastic surgery went over the top.

On the following day Brunetti intends to enlist his boss's personal assistant Signorina Elettra in his search for information. Instead she tells him that Vice-Questore Patta has a visitor for him to meet.
Maggior Guarino from the Carabinieri in Marghera is investigating the takeover of legitimate transport businesses by illegal organisations. A deal he had been making with the owner of a trucking company turned sour when the owner was killed in a robbery. The Venice police had narrowly escaped being involved in the resultant investigation. Guarino has a suspect, a Venetian, but soon after he sends Brunetti a photo of the man, he is himself killed.

Brunetti has the sense of being dragged against his will into an investigation that is getting ever closer to home. The background to this novel is, as always, stories of Italian corruption and politics. In this case it begins with the garbage crisis in Naples, Italian involvement in international refuse and dangerous goods disposal. It has not only political but also economic and moral implications. Donna Leon is shameless about her ecological stance, her exploration of issues that affect not only daily life in Venice, in Italy, but that should be of international concern.

ABOUT FACE is #18 in Donna Leon's Brunetti series. As always, I am not sure whether to advise a new reader to start with this book, or whether to try to do a little "back reading". ABOUT FACE is not the best in the series (my rating 4.4), and I found the last 50 or so pages a bit too slow. On the other hand the series is so good, one of my favourites, that I have no hesitation in recommending that you try them. If you've ever been to Venice, then you'll know something of the magic of the city, and enjoy seeing it through Guido Brunetti's eyes. Brunetti's wife, English professor Paola, is a feisty woman, Guido's personal social conscience, more than willing to challenge his decisions. She does not let us down in ABOUT FACE.

When you read a series as it is published, book by book as I do with this one, then it is hard to decide how much of the continuing back stories the new reader will find too puzzling. What I love about them is the exploration of Brunetti family life, the other strongly drawn characters such as self-taught hacker Signorina Elettra, Brunetti's boss Vice-Questore Patta, and the issues drawn constantly out of Venetian life: the pollution of the lagoon, the rising waters, the challenge to the glass industry by cheap Chinese imports, the influx of refugees, the idea that Venice is just for tourists, corruption in the police force, the grist between the police and the Carabinieri, the rise of the Camorra: it is all there and more.

If you explore this blog further you will find other reviews and mini-reviews of Donna Leon novels. Last year I reviewed THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS. Other things to tickle your fancy too, links to tours of Venice, and other books to explore.
A little news that I have come across: a new book is promised in 2010: admittedly non-fiction: AT TABLE WITH THE BRUNETTIS. And also in 2010 #19 in the Brunetti series: A QUESTION OF BELIEF.


Marg said...

I just started reading the first book in this series. It's early days, but so far I like the voice.

Kerrie said...

I hope you enjoy it Marg. I would go as far as to say that Donna Leon has some "literary" qualities to her writing. I sometimes think that Paola Brunetti is her voice.
Guido and Paola are an interesting duo.

Uriah Robinson said...

I never miss a Donna Leon book because as you say Guido, Paola and Signorina Elettra are wonderful characters, and I have worked with a few Vice-Questore Pattas.
I am waiting for this to come out in paperback.

Kerrie said...

I think the technology nearly caught Signorina Elettra this time Norman


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