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"Beastly Things" is another well-written episode of the Commissario Guido Brunetti series, albeit one that seems even darker and more contemplative than usual. For me, this story transcended the crime genre into something more like an insightful, psychological novel.

We have to assume that author Donna Leon uses her wonderfully sketched protagonist, Brunetti, to voice her own concerns about social and political issues that plague his (and her) Italian home of Venice; and those concerns have multiplied over the years as traditional woes with corruption in politics have been added to by the plight of immigrants in Italy, the trafficking in women and children, rampant polluting and pollution and myriad other forms of criminal behavior that generally are based in the sins well-described by Leon's early predecessor Dante.

"Beastly Things" opens with the murder of a local veterinarian. The investigation that follows uncovers something far more sinister, something that threatens the population at large. This crime vs. general threat is deftly--even brilliantly--handled by Leon as she describes the reactions of bystanders to details of the two kinds of crime. To be sure the author's outrage, as expressed through Brunetti, is appropriately great and expanding as the case moves toward its resolution. Greed is at the bottom of all of it, and Brunetti is allowed some powerful feelings that cause him to cut ethical corners in order to punish the perpetrators.

Built into this novel--and a few others in the series--is the basic question of what measures can be taken by decent people of authority to combat pervasive corruption, venality and criminality that is protected or indulged by people of even higher authority. In "Beastly Things", the estimable Signorina Elletra is at the core of that question. Brunetti's formidable wife, Paolo, has a similar dilemma at the university where she teaches, which requires a weighing of the same question.

I think one the great things about the Brunetti series has been that continued personal growth of the protagonist as a human being--some of it coming from the normal aging process (assuming that age produces wisdom) and some of it coming from association with the secondary characters whom author Leon endows with credible and interesting personalities.

"Beastly Things" was one of those books that I liked even better after finishing, for its intelligent message of moral outrage, justice and redemption. It's one of the Brunetti books where there is very clear retribution at story's end, even if it comes with some moral compromises by the admirable commissario. Recommended. 4++
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on 3 May 2012
As a regular visitor to Venice I must confess a weakness for Donna Leon's detective fiction. This, her latest, set in the city with her faithful detective, Brunetti, has many pleasing vignettes about the problems of coping with local bureaucracy and the endless strands of Government that costs billions without ever seeming to stamp down on corruption and environmental menace that has become ever more prevalent throughout Italy.

In this novel Leon, a committed vegetarian, takes a look at what health hazards are occurring in a mainland abattoir, the slaughterhouse on Venice having closed some years ago, and the mysterious death of a veterinary surgeon who worked there. Leon knows her Venice as one would expect from a long time resident in the City but unfortunately her plots are becoming simplistic to say the least.

The usual characters are all here: Patta, Brunetti's lazy and time serving boss whose work ethic is simply not to rock the boat with the City's power brokers and therefore remain in office; Paola, Brunetti's intellectual, liberal, university lecturer wife- most likely a meat eating edition of Leon herself- and Signorina Elettra, the beautiful and brilliant secretary to Patta who is capable of hacking into computers everywhere and, when she cannot, finding previously unmentioned friends who can render a service.

So whenever Brunetti, or indeed Leon, gets stuck a quick trip upstairs to the flower filled office of the fragrant Elettra is all that is required to get crime solving on the move again. As Leon churns out a new Brunetti every two years or so I have noticed an increasing reliance of Elettra and plots become ever less involved as the years have passed.

This is, at best a good holiday read, especially if one if visiting Venice where, ironically, all but the most most petty of crimes are almost unheard of. For all that the abattoir scenes are disturbing and will certainly encourage vegetarians everywhere and make a few meat eaters cause to pause, albeit momentarily, plus some evocative descriptions of what it is like to live on the lagoon. I just wish there had been a more complex plot and characterisation involving the suspects and a less straightforward conclusion.
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A mysterious death and the search for the body's identity has Brunetti delving into the potential for shady practice in the Italian slaughter house and meat industry. In the process he encounters human frailty, remorse and a man who dies for what he believes in, regardless of the consequences. In the process, he arrives as a late-comer to what his colleagues and wife already assume and have taken pains to deal with by avoidance; that meat is, literally, rotten. In many ways it is a gloomy look at what is wrong with modern Venice, society as a whole and the need for the human soul to find peace. This is not a book to buck you up, but it is good literature and an excellent read.
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on 18 May 2017
A well-written book - recommend it to fans of the series!
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on 28 November 2013
Found the subject difficult to cope with. Never the less enjoyed another chance to enjoy one of my favorite characters.
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on 10 May 2012
I love getting a new Donna Leon book and this was not disappointing. As usual a gripping good read = beautifully crafted
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I always learn something while reading Donna Leon's mysteries. For instance, although I'd seen the vu compra, the African immigrant street vendors, in Venice, I didn't know anything about them until I read Blood From A Stone (2005).

In this latest Commissario Brunetti mystery, Beastly Things, we learn about slaughterhouses and the meat processing industry. A visit to the slaughterhouse leaves even toughened cops Brunetti and Inspector Vianello speechless. And while they don't actually skip lunch afterward, they both opt for vegetarian sandwiches.

Beastly Things doesn't stand out among Leon's mysteries, but it is a dependable police procedural that keeps the murder in the forefront throughout. Some of her recent books have concentrated more on issues of the day rather than the mystery.

Of interest apart from the case itself were some apparent doubts expressed by Vianello and Brunetti as they once again turned to the Questura's (police headquarters) secretary, Signorina Elettra, to hack into databases they have no legal right to access. They wonder if they rely too much on Elettra's technical wizardry. Leon herself might have been asking the question of herself, at least as it regards the solutions to many of her mysteries, which often rely on Signorina Elettra's unofficial discoveries. Even as a reader, I wonder if I would be as amused if the unpleasant Lieutenant Scarpa or if Brunetti himself were doing the hacking? Elettra is such an engaging character that I look forward to her hacking exploits.

It's no coincidence that Leon has Brunetti's English professor wife, Paola, tussling with an ethical dilemma of her own. Not surprisingly, Paola comes to a decision that will allow her to sleep at night. Brunetti, once again forced to choose between doing the right thing and the legal thing, doesn't have that luxury.
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on 9 April 2012
I turned to this book with perhaps slightly lower expectations than in the past, bred by a couple of years of less than scintillating offerings from Donna Leon. However while I would not place this at the top of my "Favourite Donna Leons" list, I can report with delight that "Beastly Things" is far from beastly, and is indeed a pleasure to read.

The pleasure is a little qualified by the nature of the subjects whch Leon covers (here both the Venice barrage and the meat industry are in her sights) - but her fans will be ready for her disturbingly keen eye to be cast on yet another less than well managed area of Italian infrastructure - and to describe it so clearly that you participate in her anger and unhappiness.

But in essence the book is a classic police procedural, enhanced by the well loved characters who have grown with the series. It is, this time, a real murder; as if responding to some criticisms on these lines we start with the body of a man - most certainly murdered - in the Venetian morgue. And we take in such classic detective novel points as - if a man is found at point X at Y o clock, and died at Z olock, where did he enter the water? Yet the book is much more than a well constructed detective novel; at the heart of the book, and the title is the victim himself, whose appearance is beastly and who, it transpires, is a good and kind worker with beasts - a vet. The question Brunetti must answer is what did this good and kind man do to end his life stabbed in the back and shoved in the water? And marching alongside his enquiry, which takes him to the moral dilemmas of the victim, march his and his friends' own moral dilemmas - his ongoing battle with the legality of Signorina Ellettra's hacking versus its extraordinary efficiency in helping to bring justice to bear, the shifts and half lies involved in an effective interrogation, the rightness of using class and financial pressure to prevent others using class and financial pressure to bring about a wrong.

Other pleasures from the book are the sense that (again after a few books where characters seemed becalmed) life within those chracters is on the move. Elletra is restive - what shocks has she for us in future? And most intruigingly Patta, that most two dimensional of men, seems to be stirring into life. Here we find him confronting a moral dilemma of his own and, unlike so many of the better people about him, actually taking a high moral stand which costs him dear. What next? I shall look forward to next year's Brunetti instalment with keen anticipation!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 August 2013
Donna Leone's 21st Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery has the detective investigating a body showing the effects of Madelung disease, a rare genetic condition, which was fished out of a canal. The cause of death was readily identified as stabbing. Routine sleuthing identifies the victim as a veterinarian who was good at his job and respected by his clients.

However, to obtain the extra income needed to cover his medical fees, he had recently been working part time in a slaughterhouse checking that the animals brought in were free from disease and so could enter the food chain. Just before his death he had confessed to his wife that he had had an affair with one of his new colleagues and, as a result, she had insisted that they separate.

Brunetti and his colleague, Inspector Vianello, the `good cop', put in a great deal of leg work, ably assisted by Signorina Eletta's contacts and computer skills. The owner of a brand new computer, Brunetti realizes how much this will help him and how much more he needs to learn about it. His boss, the odious Vice-Questore Patta, is as unpleasant as ever ("Patta was quick off the block, had no compunction about obstructing the path of other competitors so long as he could get away with doing so, but lacked staying power and often dropped back in any long competition.") and even shocks Brunetti at one stage with his sartorial inelegance.

The main procedural theme is supplemented with other stories that involve Brunetti's family and work colleagues. Leon shows her experience by pitching these just at the right level, enough to gain the reader's interest but insufficient to detract from the central story.

The visit by Brunetti and Vianello to the slaughterhouse gives Leon the opportunity to write vividly about something we would all rather not know about. There is another piece of bravura writing at the end when the Commissario attends the funeral of the murdered veterinarian, where he was mourned by everyone attending, each in their own way. For some this might teeter on the borders of sentimentality but, for me, it captured the spirit of the weaving story that had gone on before.

There is not a great deal of action and this book, like others before it, is character-driven rather than plot-driven. However, the uniformly high quality of the writing did not cause me to worry about this in the slightest. There was significantly less mention of food in this novel, perhaps reflecting the central storyline.

Guido and Paola's children feature less than in some recent books, but his son, Raffi, asks his father whether he knows anything about the war in Alto Adige. He replies that his grandfather fought in it and the family discussion moves on to the number of soldiers killed. Brunette suggests about 600,000 excluding civilians. "Jesus on the cross," Raffi whispered. Paola shot him a sharp glance, but it was clear to all of them that astonishment, not blasphemy, had provoked the remark. "That's twelve Venices," Raffi said in a small, astonished voice".

Morality is at the heart of this novel: Paola is concerned that a colleague up for promotion has a record of stealing valuable books from libraries, a veterinarian has forged his CV to get a job, EU directives are broken, information about criminals may put them in jail but what if it had been obtained illegally?, concerns about the environment have led to Chiara, Brunetti's daughter, becoming a vegetarian whilst the Commissario is led to question his daily pinta.

At the end of the book, Brunetti interviews a character who is up to his neck in the crime and who has brought a lawyer along with him. Shock, horror - this may be an honest lawyer, "Brunetti was pleased to see Torinese who, although clever and capable of legal surprises, played more or less by the book; one did not have to fear bribed witnesses or false medical claims". This greatly impresses the Commissario since usually the lawyers he meets have left their morals and ethics at the front door of the Questura. When Brunetti explains that the interview is being held because of certain suspicions having arisen, the lawyer interjects that "'Suspicion in not the same thing as information', making one of those distinctions that earn lawyers hundreds of euros an hour".

This is Leon writing at her very best. A highly recommended read.
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VINE VOICEon 16 April 2012
Donna Leon simply doesn't seem to run out of steam. Her 21st Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery is another winner.

In "Beastly Things," we find our erstwhile police officer engaged in yet another, yes, murder. It's his forte. And, frankly, few, if any, does it better than Donna Leon.

"Only when he reached the door of his apartment did Brunetti realize how profoundly tired he was. He felt like a billiard ball that had been sliding around all day, first to this side and then to that. He'd learned too much and traveled too much, and now all he wanted to do was sit quietly and eat his dinner while listening to his family discuss subjects that had nothing to do with crime or death. He wanted a peaceful, uncontentious evening."

Alas, that was not to be. The body of an unidentified man has been discovered in one of the canals in Venice and the medical lab pronounces it a "suspicious death," which to Brunetti means murder. The man has an unusual physical disease and is missing one shoe. No one has reported a person missing. The mystery deepens.

Of course, Brunetti and his "team," especially the indefatigable Signorina Elletra, and his detective assistant Vianello, start to work their magic--either via electonic genius or good detective work and lead after lead begins to fall in place.

Leon is no stranger to addressing socially significant issues in Italy. She never misses a beat and her character development is always first class. I don't think any of the 21 books have omitted addressing the corruption of politics, business, banking--the whole Italian, especially, Venetian, scene. In "Beastly Things," the issue is animal rights (or more precisely, the "business" of meat production). In one grisly chapter, Leon takes us inside a slaughterhouse and we readily get the picture. As it happens, of course, the dead man is directly connected here, thus the author connects the two--and most effectively.

Brunetti hasn't changed, except he's another year older, but Leon has been able to maintain his credibility as a fictional policeman throughout this series. My favorite is the first book, "Death at La Fenice," followed by "Uniform Justice" and "Drawing Conclusions," although I've never been disappointed by any of this series. In "Beastly Things," Leon once more takes the bull by the horns and comes out a winner.
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