Crime and ambiguity

2010-06-23 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

A Question of Belief

Donna Leon

William Heinemann

DONNA Leon’s series of detective novels centred on the appealing figure of Commissario Guido Brunetti continues on its merry way with A Question of ­Belief. Venice is suffering from a heatwave, though to those of us who live in a hotter climate, it must be said that the Venetians seem to bang on a bit about the temperature.

There are two strands to the story: Ispettore Vianello’s aunt is becoming obsessed with a dubious character who claims to cast horoscopes, while Brunetti is delving into murky activities in the courts. Though really, everyone is wanting to escape to the mountains while the ever cool Signorina Elettra hacks into computers and digs the dirt. But holidays are cut short when there is a murder and the victim is one of the people Brunetti was trying to investigate.

In Brunetti’s universe nothing is ever quite as it seems, and as he detects he also ponders the wider meaning of life, while his wife and children keep him on his toes on all kinds of issues, and, above all, his wife keeps him fed. Reading Donna Leon will send you to the nearest good Italian restaurant every time.

Brunetti’s is not a Sherlock ­Holmesian world where, at the end, everyone is back safely in Baker Street with problems solved and the guilty dealt with. Leon’s outlook is more ambiguous, and while Brunetti may solve crimes, there is no certainty that punishment or even conviction will follow. Italy is a complex society, and these books do not deal in absolutes. It is a major part of their charm and their success. Long may Leon continue.

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