Brunetti Series

Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti Series, is entertaining reading, particularly for those who have travelled to Venice. Brunetti is her police detective who sleuths in and around Venice, Italy. He’s a family man, with a wife who is a university professor teaching English literature at an Italian university, and two teenagers who badger him at the dinner table about the usual teenage criticisms.

In his many years as a commissario, Guido Brunetti has seen all manner of crime and known intuitively how to navigate the various pathways in his native city, Venice, to discover the person responsible. Now, in Transient Desires, the thirtieth novel in Donna Leon’s masterful series, he faces a heinous crime committed outside his jurisdiction. He is drawn in innocently enough: two young American women have been badly injured in a boating accident, joy riding in the Laguna with two young Italians. However, Brunetti’s curiosity is aroused by the behavior of the young men, who abandoned the victims after taking them to the hospital. If the injuries were the result of an accident, why did they want to avoid association with it?

As Brunetti and his colleague, Claudia Griffoni, investigate the incident, they discover that one of the young men works for a man rumored to be involved in more sinister nighttime activities in the Laguna. To get to the bottom of what proves to be a gut-wrenching case, Brunetti needs to enlist the help of both the Carabinieri and the Guardia di Costiera. Determining how much trust he and Griffoni can put in these unfamiliar colleagues adds to the difficulty of solving a peculiarly horrible crime whose perpetrators are technologically brilliant and ruthlessly organized.

Donna Leon’s Transient Desires is as powerful as any novel she has written, testing Brunetti to his limits and forcing him to listen very carefully for the truth.

Richard comments
If you have been to Venice, seen movies with it as the setting, videos or travelogues of the city, you know it is one of the most tourist-visited cities in the world and justifiably so. There is never a time of the year when the city has no tourists but during the spring and fall, Venice is ‘boom-town’ for tourism. Packed like anchovies in one of those oblong tins in which Italians pack the small fish fillets, jammed with mad mobs of tourists, crammed piazzas overflowing with touristy gawkers, Venice is never void of tourists but the spring and fall are crazy periods with tourists from every part of the globe. 

Venetians hate the tourists as there are just too many of them. Tourists from everywhere, tourists come by train terminating in the northern perimeters, by car, again to the northern borders of the city, and worst of all, the cruise ships. Gigantic behemoths carrying thousands of tourists all anchored just off the city ports but releasing the commercially crazed city-sized herds to invade and swamp Venice proper. As of August, 2021, these gagantuan cruise ships will no longer be allowed to navigate the city’s canals, not that any other than the Grande Canal could accommodate them. The effluence from the giant floating cities is one matter, an environmentally serious concern but the greater concern was that the water displacement created by these monstrous vessels that threatened the very existance of the canal bordering residences, hotels, and businesses. Water would rise higher that the aqua alta floods of the spring and these floods damaged the upper foundations of the buildings. Venice already has a problem that it is sinking into the Adriatic, slowly, excruciatingly and ceaselessly and even though the city has undertaken engineering measures to mitigate the annual flood water damage, the tourist jewel has a countable number of decades to its ultimate demise unless the strategies and construction controls engineers are planning succeed. Unless there is success, there will be no visitable Venice within a generation.

Donna Leon has seen the writing on the wall. She writes from the pastoral seclusion of Switzerland, having given up on the city to which she had immigrated from the United States more than thirty years ago. Still she captures the atmosphere and unique character of the city with her popular Commissario Guido Brunetti detective series. He is the foil Leon uses to describe the sins against the environment, the trials of tourism and the corruption plaguing the city government. Yet, when Brunetti visits his favourite bistros for an espresso, a glass of wine or an apperitivo, a reader will be carried back to the romantic and captivating Venice of old. A glamourous city, a historical site that grabs visitors and holds them in its hands every step along every canal and down every alley. Brunetti’s crime investigations will take readers along these paths to their reading pleasure and their virtual reality pleasure. It is escapism, pure and simple but entertainingly so.

The crime in Transient Desires relates to human trafficking, a growing problem internationally and in Venice even more so because of the easy access via the Adriatic from the impoverished and war-torn nations surrounding the Mediterranean. Leon incorporates that troubling humanity into her book but without horror or gore. She merely insinuates that it is a major and growing problem for Venice, a known one over which the Venetians have no power or capability of eliminating. As Brunetti demonstrates more and more in his sleuthing, his laments with each discovery are reflections of Leon’s views.

Every book written by Leon is a polished, entertaining and engaging read. In that regard, Transient Desire delivers as anticipated and expected. However, Leon may be tiring, after all she is almost 80 years old, an age where there is some slowing down, some tiring due to decreased energy and stamina. One might criticize Leon for not delving as deeply into her descriptions as she has in the past, for being less critical of the sins of her miscreants and for abbreviating topics that in previous books she would deal with at length. As easy as these criticisms may be, Leon still is a master, the Michaelangelo of prose, the Leonardo of literary Mona Lisas. She is the best of the best and every reader will find her books wonderful pieces of art, written masterpieces for all time.


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