Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Question Of Belief - Donna Leon


A Question Of Belief
A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery
Donna Leon
Penguin/Grove Press

Mystery

The canals and soaring architecture of Venice are no match for the stifling and inescapable August heat due to widespread lack of air conditioning. These are the realities that face Commissario Guido Brunetti. Usually, the crime rate increases during a heat wave, but this one is so bad that the criminals apparently can’t be bothered. Brunetti is counting the days to a family vacation in the mountains (where sweaters and quilts will be necessary) when a friend drops in on him with a strange file. The file details several cases wending their very slow way through the court system. Examining the information, Brunetti sees that there are far more delays with these cases than would be usual. And he finds a couple of names that appear frequently: Araldo Fontana, a man who has spent a distinguished career as a functionary in the system; and Judge Coltellini.

Before Brunetti has much time to pursue the information, Inspector Lorenzo Vianello comes to him with a problem. Lorenzo’s aunt, generally a no-nonsense type of woman, has begun withdrawing large sums of money and is uncharacteristically secretive about where the money is going. For her to be so secretive must mean that there’s something shady about her actions. It’s a family problem, but the family is making no headway. Brunetti finds himself following an old woman after a bank withdrawal to see where she goes. The answer satisfies no one and the recipient of the funds raises further concerns.

Brunetti and his family are on the train to the mountains when he’s called back to the city. Araldo Fontana is dead; murdered in the courtyard of his apartment building. An apartment that a court clerk should never be able to afford. Despite everyone’s assurances that Fontana was “decorous” and “a good man,” there was clearly more to his life than his dedication to his job.

This is the nineteenth book in the series; don’t let that discourage you. Venice, its people, its summer heat, even its political problems, are all detailed in a way that allows the reader to fully experience the story. To read A QUESTION OF BELIEF is to live in Venice while turning the pages. This is a very literate and character-driven crime novel. This was my first foray into the world of Guido Brunetti, and I felt right at home. His relationships with his wife, his children, and his colleagues are deep and complex. Each character feels absolutely genuine. The story is crafted with care and grace. Ms. Leon is clearly a master at work.

Rating: 9
April 2011
ISBN# 978-0-14-311895-4 (trade paperback)

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