When Dottoressa Donato calls the Questura to report that a dying patient at the hospice Fatebenefratelli wants to speak to the police, Commissario Guido Brunetti and his colleague, Claudia Griffoni, waste no time in responding.
“They killed him. It was bad money. I told him no,” Benedetta Toso gasps the words about her recently-deceased husband, Vittorio Fadalto. Even though he is not sure she can hear him Brunetti softly promises he and Griffoni will look into what initially appears to be a private family tragedy. They discover that Fadalto worked in the field collecting samples of contamination for a company that measures the cleanliness of Venice’s water supply and that he had died in a mysterious motorcycle accident. Distracted briefly by Vice Questore Patta’s obsession with youth crime in Venice, Brunetti is bolstered once more by the remarkable research skills of Patta’s secretary, Signora Elettra Zorzi. Piecing together the tangled threads, in time Brunetti comes to realize the perilous meaning in the woman’s accusation and the threat it reveals to the health of the entire region. But justice in this case proves to be ambiguous, as Brunetti is reminded it can be when, seeking solace, he reads Aeschylus’s classic play The Eumenides.
As she has done so often through her memorable characters and storytelling skill, Donna Leon once again engages our sensibilities as to the differences between guilt and responsibility.
Donna Leon never disappoints if you want to read a competently written detective story. She delivers in every book, Trace Element included.
Her lead character, Commissario Brunetti, is as charming a police detective as any might be. A family man, husband, father to two teens, erudite and educated, he demonstrates himself to be somewhat of a Renaissance man in his knowledge and world learning. He reads classic literature, knows a bit of art, enjoys culture and stays current with the politics and social news current in Italy, not just in Venice but in other locations as well.
Leon enjoys keeping her readers up to date with the current issue of the day in Italian politics and in its society, particularly as related to Venice. Her love of Venice stems from her many years of residence there. A ex-patriate of the USA, Leon married a Venetian and lived in the historical city for many years, about two decades. Her familiarity with the city emanates from every page as she writes about the canal transit system, the water bus stops throughout the city, the touristy landmarks found throughout the city, the bistros and bars, ones which she likely patronized herself. Venice to Leon is like a lover, to be revered, held close and embraced passionately. She does that on every page.
Readers who have visited Venice or those who want to will enjoy each of Leon’s Brunetti books. She takes readers on a tour of the city, viewing her wondrous sights and visiting her famous landmarks while weaving an up to date tale.
Donna Leon remains as engaging as the historical city that is the setting for many of her plots. Though Leon’s sharpness and razor edginess as seen in earlier works, wanes a little in this edition. Perhaps a factor of age and writer fatigue. Still, readers will never be disappointed with a Leon creation. Trace Element won’t either.