February 24, 2024 | Rome, Italy

A Question of Belief

By |2020-04-11T00:19:35+02:00July 31st, 2010|Books, Recent Reviews|

By Donna Léon

William Heinemann, 2010. 272 pages.


t’s a sweltering August, and the heat is on in Donna Léon’s 19th Commissario Brunetti Venetian mystery. Leaving the clichéd tourist trail to guidebooks, Léon focuses local Venice fauna. They’re her microphoto of human need, greed, and passion. Léon’s finely shaded characters and terrific plotting make this a sizzling summer read.

Brunetti’s latest crime hunt involves a common, widespread malady. Simply put: it’s our ferocious desire to believe in solutions. Yet the title-indicated “belief” connects to no religion. Brunetti finds that desperate hopes birth private credos. The key to character, and crime.

Léon introduces this vast human capacity for “belief” through soft subplot. The commissario and his sidekick Ispettore Vianello discover that Vianello’s old aunt gives her faith and cash to a TV cartomancer. While exposing such media rip-offs, they encounter some illegal legality. Seems Judge Coltellini’s “model” assistant, Arnaldo Fontana, accepts her rigged Venetian courtroom docket as “legal.” Why hasn’t this court officer exposed her? Is Coltellini’s scam the link to his brutal midnight murder? Léon’s game board suggests multiple clue-paths, and plenty of suspects and victims, who all cling to their private and secret convictions.

For once in his long fictional life, Brunetti is minus family and succulent home-cooked meals. With his wife and children on cool mountain vacation, he confronts Venice in August, where the heat of open piazzas “sweep over him in a wave.” His investigation route beautifully maps the suggestive byways of his lagoon city. He walks stone-baked calle, catches shade under a café awning, and, of course, uncovers the interwoven chain of tragically deluded beliefs that led to Fontana’s death.

One of Léon’s best Brunetti turns yet.

About the Author:

Former Rabelais scholar Patricia Fogarty honed her skills in the New York City publishing world. She lives in Rome and has been the magazine's book columnist for a decade.