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Originally published Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 5:00 AM

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Book review

'Beastly Thing': The commissario plumbs corruption

"Beastly Things," Donna Leon's 21st Commissario Brunetti mystery, tells a tale of murder and institutional corruption in the streets (and canals) of Venice.

Special to The Seattle Times

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'Beastly Things: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery'

by Donna Leon

Atlantic Monthly Press, 296 pp., $25

"Beastly Things," Donna Leon's 21st mystery of her Commissario Guido Brunetti series set in Venice, doesn't disappoint. All her trademark strengths shine in this swiftly paced, sophisticated tale of greed versus ethics.

Leon is an American who's made Italy her home for 30 years. So it's no accident that the changing times, rising prices, tiresome tourists and increasing pollution that trouble her echo and add authority to her characters' concerns.

This time, the body of a man is found floating in a canal. He has no ID. Because there's water in his lungs, the medical examiner says the victim was alive when thrown in. But the cause of death is three stab wounds in the back.

Brunetti and his assistant, Inspector Lorenzo Vianello, spend the bulk of the book hunting the corpse's identity. As in past Leon mysteries, the pair owe a large debt of gratitude to their colleague, Signorina Elettra, a secretary/computer whiz who supplements their leg work with her sometimes less-than-legal electronic forays into the secret lives of the case's persons of interest.

Leon's stories are never simple. Complicating this one is corruption, both personal and institutional, which endangers Venetians' health. And once again, Brunetti's loving family life layers contrasting aspects atop the main conflict's theme. He is that rare thing in the mystery genre, a functional father and husband as well as an excellent detective.

Even when the body is identified, Brunetti & Co. must learn what motivated the murder. Readers who like solving whodunits will enjoy "Beastly Things." Leon has provided all the juicy clues.

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