Donna Leon has produced another competent vignette of Venetian police detective Guido Brunetti. Leon’s deliberate writing style describes an elegant, emotional, and vulnerable hero. Also, almost an anomaly in mystery series, Brunetti has a stable family life and no addictions worthy of note.
It is because she is an American living in Venice, I think, that she does such a fine job of describing what we armchair travelers want to hear about: that hidden, colloquial Venice that a tourist would rarely see. She usually offers a side course in food and wine along with the main dish of murder as well. But make no mistake, there are no recipes tacked on to the end of the novel for us to re-create and her novels are not disquisitions on behalf of the Italian tourist board. Her subjects are serious and often very sad, as in the current book.
Brunetti is accidentally involved in a case involving what may be an illegally adopted child. Because he becomes emotionally invested in the case, Brunetti presumes to investigate beyond what the powers-that-be would wish. In what could be a “Law and Order” episode, he discovers that the original incident evolves into something larger altogether. The father of the adopted child is a pediatrician. Using this as a jumping off point, Brunetti and his team discover links to a potential medical blackmailing scheme and an infertility clinic scam. After many twists and turns, Leon brings us back to that at which she excels: helping us understand both the petty and grand motivations of the heart.