The annual Donna Leon crime novel is still a welcome treat: unlike many authors of serial popular fiction, she has not become lazy or slapdash in her writing. I have long since abandoned the annual Robert Goddard and the regular productions of English crime writers Ruth Rendell and Peter Robinson. A new Donna Leon is still a cause for celebration.
In our household of two enthusiastic Commissario Brunetti fans, we decide who gets the first reading by the toss of a coin. The winner has the advantage of being able to gloat ( ” You’re half-way through, have you worked out whodunit yet?” ), a pastime only surpassed by the pleasure of being the one who gets to choose and cook The Lunch. As dedicated Leon readers will know, her books combine the delights of crime fiction with the sights of Venice and the tastes of Italian food.
In Beastly Things (2012), Brunetti and his off-sider, Vianello, sit down to a salad of shrimp, raw artichoke and ginger followed by zuppe di pesche, served with fresh bread, good olive oil and half a litre of white wine. Equally predictably – it’s like encountering old friends – Brunetti’s wife Paola pours champagne while discussing her students’ reactions to the work of Henry James (this time The Spoils of Poynton) and Vice-Questore Patta speaks “in the voice he used when urged to be a mover of men and a creator of dynamic action.” Signorina Elettra is still wearing beautiful hand-made shoes and conducting illegal enquiries on her computer.
And, as always with Donna Leon, the novel is tightly-plotted, featuring a crime that has its roots in the murky Venetian underworld of political corruption, misspent wealth and inordinate greed.