I begin to wonder whether Donna Leon has exhausted her interest in Brunetti and the world she has created for him. I almost felt at points in the book that she was simply rushing through to get the book out to schedule. Like a previous reviewer I felt the nods to Brunetti's world almost perfunctory: Elletra, Vianello, Paola and the children all make their due appearances doing something characteristic, but they do not develop at all as personalities (which is a sadness for all long term readers, and I felt particularly an opportunity missed with Chiara and Rafi - I mean really, isn't there always something new with teenagers?). Personally I missed most the descriptions of Paola's cooking - I always linger over the pages which describe her dishing up, and them enjoying her beautiful seasonal recipes - this time a couple of lines tell us what the family has, and you can go away and look it up in a cookbook if you want more. Mean, I call it!
But to the detective aspect of the book, which is what we are all theoretically there for - how about that? Well, agaiin I felt that Donna Leon was slightly bored by the format. Yes, we get a mystery - an elderly lady is found dead. It could be a heart attack but there are some indications which suggest violence which may have precipitated the heart attack. The son is well in with Patta, but behaves mysteriously, the finder of the body may have links to the Mafia, the spare bedroom of the flat is plain odd. We get a resolution, of course, but it is frankly not very satisfactory qua detective fiction resolution - and the red herrings are not enjoyably played out along the way - just floated and dropped.
Where Leon seems more to be going is a slightly downbeat state of the nation review. Her disenchatment with Italy's political system is often seen in the books, but there seems to be a more overarching feeling of depression with the malaise underpinning the book. She looks at the way that corruption is endemic even amongst the good guys - how does Elletra get those armfuls of flowers past accounts, how many laws does Brunetti ask her to break when he gets her to do some hackery on the side of the angels, how much impact does a gift of champagne have on a degree result? And she also asks: are we wrong to see truth as a good - is it not in some cases awful and best not spoken - for our own sakes and for others? And how do we best protect and preserve the only things which really matter? The questions are interesting and the situations created to pose them are well drawn - but again they are not as fully developed as I would have liked.
So for the first time ever, I put down my new Donna Leon with a sense of disappointment. Of course I will buy the next one, but with lower expectations - and with a hope that in the intervening year she has decided to commit herself fully to the book in one direction or another.