"She was eating an apple. The knife was on the table."
Thus confesses the murderer in this eleventh instalment of the Commissario Brunetti series. I am glad to report it is a return to form following the disappointment of the tenth, `A Sea of Troubles'.
This time we stay in the city itself and explore the question of honour. Honour is uppermost in Paola's mind as she teaches her students the works of Henry James and Edith Wharton, but they are also uppermost in Brunetti as events that took place in the city during the Second World War intrude into a seemingly motiveless murder of one of Paola's students at the university. Venice at all times has had its secrets, but those of the war seem to be the hardest to unravel, perhaps because their horrors were too great.
Donna Leon maintains her usual eye for irony and for the age. She notes how, "The Madonna had once saved the city from plague, and now there was a church. The Americans had saved the country from the Germans, and now there was a McDonald's." Her talent for exposing the seamier side of the city, for the things that the Venetians would rather the tourists did not see or hear about, remains untarnished. For of Brunetti's friend Marco, who complains of having to pay bribes to the city's planning office, "so much of what would be sold in his shop as `original Venetian handicrafts' was made in third world countries where the closest the workers ever came to a canal was the one behind their houses that served as a sewer."
I'm not sure that the contrived denouement fulfilled my expectations, but that goes, I guess, with the genre in which she writes. But perhaps my own frustration with her endings derives more from the frustrations of the Italian legal system rather than from her own imagination. Justice - and that honour which is the subject of this novel - are not, it seems, uppermost in the minds of many of those enmeshed in the country's legal system. Nevertheless, Leon is not totally off the hook, for there is something unreal about the fact that Brunetti and his wife only now, after twenty or more years of marriage, discuss what their families did during the Second World War.
It's good to see Leon give Vianello the promotion he has for so long deserved, but the currency has failed to be transformed from lira to the Euro, despite the book originally being published in 2002. Still, it's unfair to moan about these things when Leon has such a fine eye for a wonderful musical metaphor: "As formulaic as a Haydn symphony, the children's bickering had moved into an adagio but Brunetti, in expectation of the allegro tempestoso that was sure to come, closed the door and sat on the sofa ..." I sat on my sofa and read this book in (almost) one go: whilst not an allegro con fuoco, the theme of the novel's steady andante was a pleasurable experience.