To read Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries is to fall in love with Venice, a city to which we will never have access because we are only tourists distracted by the gondolas and the rich polenta and the beautiful men. Brunetti is a native married to an aristocrat. He is a thinking man’s detective who rarely carries a gun and uses his brains to solve cases. But the reader suspects it is his wife Paola, a Henry James scholar, who has the bigger IQ. This mystery is heady — about a bisexual opera singer and her violent stalker — and a little anticlimactic as mysteries go. By the time we know who the aggressor is, the story’s interest begins to wane. The on-stage climax after a penultimate performance of “Tosca” is, well, anticlimactic. But to walk the bridges in Brunetti’s shoes, to stop in the cafes and restaurants, and get inside his head as he contemplates his wife and children is as delicious as risotto. He is a man who loves women, written by a woman of empathy and intelligence (the exquisite Donna Leon). One of the things I love the most about her books is the sense of Venetian justice — or lack thereof. While this particular novel ends with a sense of completion, Leon is unafraid to portray a society where justice can be bought, and where the do-right man has to be an expert in bureaucratic subterfuge in order to achieve a sense of balance between right and wrong.
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