83 of 87 people found the following review helpful
Excellent - but different,
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This review is from: The Jewels of Paradise (Hardcover)
I've always thought it must be difficult for established authors famous for a particular series character or genre, to break out of the mould and write something different. What should they do? Hope their fans will stay with them even though the book is different? Or do they branch out under another name and hope the book will stand on its own and gain them a following?
Ruth Rendell wrote as Barbara Vine and did well with her stand alone thrillers after her success with the Wexford series; Agatha Christie wrote novels under the pen name of Mary Westmacott and did not do as well; P D James wrote a Jane Austen spin off under her usual name with mixed results. In the case of Donna Leon she has given her fans - and maybe new readers as well - something different from her hugely successful Guido Brunetti series in The Jewels of Paradise.
Here is Venice again in all her glory, corruption and Machiavellian complexity. It is Caterina Pelligrini's home city. She is a young musicologist and has been offered a job she cannot resist as she is feeling homesick for La Serenissima. Perhaps because she is homesick she doesn't ask as many questions as she should have done about the job itself.
She is tasked with examining all the documents in two locked trunks under strict conditions. Before she accepts the job she does not know who the trunks belonged to just that the whole thing is surrounded by secrecy. She has been told the former owner of the trunks comes within her field of expertise which is baroque composers and music.
The writing is subtle and understated and recognisably Leon's style and Venice is Brunetti's Venice. Caterina herself could easily be someone Brunetti encountered in the course of his work. He would remember her if they had met. The plot is slight - but many of the Brunetti plots are slight if stripped to their essentials.
The mystery to be unravelled is why Caterina has been given the job and why there is a job to do in the first place. I enjoyed the historical background to the composer Agostino Steffani which Caterina has to investigate. I also enjoyed the subtle, elliptical conversations which Leon does so well.
As Venetian life and society are never straightforward both the reader and Caterina herself have to unravel what is going on and work out who she can trust and who is her enemy. I enjoyed the glimpses the reader gets into Caterina's family and her four sisters all of whom I could bear to know more about.
If you enjoy the Brunetti series for its characters and its subtleties and its hugely successful portrait of Venice then you will also enjoy this novel. If you enjoy the Brunetti series because of the crimes investigated then you may be disappointed by this book. I loved it and I think the way to enjoy it is to start off reading it without comparing it with Leon's previous books if you can. There are similar ingredients but they are combined in different ways to produce what - to me - is an equally pleasing, but different result.