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on 29 August 2014
Book 23, in the Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

Ms. Donna’s latest inspiration comes from the recent real-life thefts from the Girolamini Library in Naples and has finely offered us a tale that includes theft, blackmail, violence and murder. A rare book thief is the target in this latest installment.

This is a thoughtful and leisurely read that emphasizes on the way of life of Venice as much as on the crime, although as a fan since book 1 it is of no surprise to have anticipated this would be the case. Ms. Leon has followed the same formula for years now.

This old fashion detective is well aware of the corruption and class divides in his society and regardless of pressure coming from all corners he will find the truth. As in her previous stories the sense of place is exceptionally strong but lack a little on the investigating techniques. Brunetti meanders around Venice a lot and loves to describe what he sees and eats. In addition to the usual cast of characters in Brunetti's professional and private life, there are staff members at the library, a shadowy ex-priest who has been using the library as a refuge and reading room, and other temporary and permanent citizens of Venice. The book is just the right length to carry the story but short enough not to be taxing our endurance although it does leave loose ends and finishes too abruptly for my taste. The narrative is lively and is sharply written in a serene tone, the style is more intellectual and literary than some of the previous installments, and this is one improvement I appreciated the most.

“By its Cover”, is the standard Leon’s with these exceptions: less family interaction and description of food. This is a good and fast read.
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A library in Venice loses some valuable rare books and others in its collection are vandalised. Brunetti is assigned to the case even though he believes it would be better dealt with by a specialist unit. It soon becomes clear that one of the scholars who has been using the library on a regular basis is not who he seems to be and when one of the other readers is found murdered the stakes become higher than even Brunetti suspected.

I enjoyed this subtle and understated story which is far more in the vein of earlier Brunetti stories. While there are asides about environmental issues these do not dominate the story as recent episodes in this series have to done to their detriment, in my opinion.

Here are all the favourite series characters including Paola, Guido Brunetti’s forthright wife, his aristocratic in-laws and his police colleagues – Patta, Vianello and the inimitable Elettra with her mastery of all things computerised. Venice is, as ever, almost a character in the story providing an atmospheric background to theft and murder.
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When the Chief Librarian of the Biblioteca Merula in Venice discovers that someone has been vandalising their collection of rare antiquarian books, Commissario Guido Brunetti is called in to investigate. At first it looks like an art theft - illustrated pages have been cut from the books and Brunetti soon learns that there is a market for these amongst unscrupulous but fanatical collectors. It seems obvious who the guilty party is - a man masquerading as an American academic, who has now disappeared. But as Brunetti tries to track him, the case takes an altogether darker turn when another regular user of the library is brutally murdered.

Although this is the 23rd in the series, it's the first of the Brunetti novels that I've read. I found it a thoughtful and rather leisurely read with the emphasis as much on describing the way of life in Venice as on the crime, and this came as a very pleasant change from so many of the current crime novels with their emphasis on violence, grittiness and action. Brunetti is something of an old-fashioned detective, an upright moral man (no drink problem, no maverick tendencies, happy family life - yay!) with a meditative mind. He is well aware of the corruption and class divides in his society, but seeks to get to the truth regardless of any political pressure that may be put on him. His relationship with his wife comes across as very authentic, while her more aristocratic background allows him access to the upper echelons of society in a way that wouldn't be possible for an 'ordinary' policeman.

The Venetian society Leon portrays seems to be stuck back in the days when birth was even more important than money and where forelocks are still expected to be tugged on a regular basis. Whether this is an accurate portrayal, I don't know, but I found it convincing. Leon also shows how corruption is preventing the city from taking the urgent action needed to preserve this unique place, and how the political system itself plays into the hands of those who care more for profit than for the city's long-term viability. Much of this story revolves around religious books, which means that Brunetti also does a fair amount of musing on the status of religion in the modern world.

I found all of these things intriguing and enjoyable and felt the sense of place in the book was exceptionally strong. In fact, I assumed wrongly that I was reading a translated work from a native of Venice, but subsequently discovered that Leon is American, although she has lived in Venice for a quarter of a century. Where the book fell down a little was on the investigation. In fact, there was very little real investigation as Brunetti meandered around Venice avoiding the obvious actions (like taking forever to contact the Arts Crimes specialists, for instance). And to be honest I didn't think the motivation for the murder was very well explained at all - that part left me totally unconvinced, while the odd abruptness of the ending left me turning back to see if I had missed something. However, that didn't take away from the pleasure I got from the quality of the writing and characterisation, while the descriptions of Venice and its society raised the book well above the average. I will certainly be reading more of this series, and thoroughly recommend the book despite its few weaknesses.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Grove Atlantic.
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on 3 April 2014
After a couple of disappointing outings, we are back with vintage Brunetti, still ably supported by Inspector Vianello and Signorina Elettra. We don't meet the in-laws very much, and the children practically not at all, but we do get an interesting array of variously confused, disappointed, and frankly criminal people. The crime wave this time is the theft and desecration of valuable books. The problems are why would someone do this? who would do it? and, as Brunetti is fond of asking, cui bono - who profits?.
I read it in a single sitting and was really taken aback when I reached the somewhat abrupt end. However - welcome back, Dottore Brunetti and even more so Dottoressa Leon.
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on 25 August 2014
I love Donna Leon`s descriptions of Venetian life, cuisine and social hierarchy and the detective story is always entertaining. Given my combined interest in Italy, antiquarian books and gastronomy I had high expectations of this novel, yet it is the first time I have found a Brunetti tale a trifle uninspiring.
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on 29 March 2015
Very poor offering this time from Donna Leon. It actually feels like she is fed up with writing about Brunetti's investigations and has fallen back on his opinions about life, politics, weather, clothing etc. Money spinner with very little effort put in.
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on 20 October 2014
This Commisario Guido Brunetti mystery begins when he receives a telephone call from the director of a specialized library indicating some rare books have presumably been stolen. Moreover, others have been mutilated, maps and illustrations having been cut out of the volumes. From that point, the plot moves forward in a straight police procedural format.

The story allows the Commissario to shine, with his deep erudite knowledge of history and literature. And the author is given the opportunity to tackle yet another singular subject: the rare book industry, and its sideline of theft and greedy collectors. The obvious culprit is a man who had identified himself as an American professor who requested the books. And a former priest, who has been reading in the library for the past three years, is an apparent witness. Unfortunately, he is murdered before he can be questioned, complicating the investigation.

Brunetti is a Venetian, through and through. And the series is grounded in Venice, as he walks the streets and sails on the canals and lagoon as he pursues a solution to the crimes he investigates, providing a bona fide atmosphere for the series. While the novel is at the same high level of subtlety and sophistication as past entries, it lacks some of the attributes that have endeared readers to the series in the past. Lacking are Brunnetti’s gourmet appetite, his wife’s recipes for wonderful meals, the charming repartee over the dinner table between husband and wife and two children as precocious as their parents, the charm of Brunetti’s home life, his relationship with his wife, daughter and son are always plusses in the books that make up this series. That said, the novel, as each of its predecessors, is recommended.
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on 13 April 2015
OK for holiday reading but disappointing. Not up to usual standard. Rather loosely written and researched and very little about the food and ambience of Venice she is usually so strong on.
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on 10 January 2016
As delightful it is reading about Brunetti's goings and comings to and fro crime scenes in Venice, about his interactions with his wife Paola, Vianello and signorina Elettra en even Patta, this book left me thoroughly disappointed at the abrupt and in my opinion not finished end. It started quite promising with the despicable acts of ruining precious, ancient books for financial gain. No way I have read anything about the why and how of the real culprits, only in the end a sad and rather unbelievable story of one of the accessories. The interactions as I mentioned before were virtually non-existent. All of a sudden Vianello is replaced somewhere near the "end`" of the investigation by a female commissario Claudia Griffoni. One asks: "Why?"
I had the feeling when finishing the book, that the story in itself had at least more than a 100 pages to go, but I suspect that Ms. Leon had a deadline with her publisher and satisfied them with this very unsatisfying book. Why, oh why ms. Leon did you give in to the power of pecunia? I cannot imagine that it was because of lack of inspiration. All in all I hope that her next book will be more substantial (this one only has 290 pages) and more interaction for which among other things her Brunetti books became so well loved.
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on 13 May 2014
Donna Leon has brought us Commissario Brunetti over the years set in lovely Venice. This latest story concerning stolen ancIent books is interesting but lacks drama or tension and sort of peters out at the end! If you haven't become a fan of Brunetti yet it would not be a good introduction and I recommend you start an acquainanceship with the thoughtful Venetian detective in one of the earlier volumes! For fans it is adequate but not one of Leon's best..
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