Sunday, March 27, 2011

A QUESTION OF BELIEF: DONNA LEON



It is a miserably hot August in Venice and Guido Brunetti is dreaming of his holiday. But his colleague Vianello's aunt may the victim of a clever scam, and Brusca, head of the department of employment records at the Commune has a problem. Various court cases are being delayed for months, a procedure which benefits one of the parties, by Judge Coltellini, who appears to have her infatuated clerk Araldo Fontana trapped in her web.
When Brunetti leaves for his family holiday, getting away from Venice's stifling heat the train barely reaches Bolzano before he is brought back to investigate Fontana's murder, during an apparent mugging.

Donna Leon is back to form with this very Italian story of corruption, a clever scam, nepotism, and different forms of love cleverly worked into less than 300 pages.

Brusca sighed, then said in a sober voice, 'I think a great number of people are more interested in money than in love. Or even sex.'

The beautiful Paola Brunetti along with their children Raffi and Chiara add some eccentric charm to what is otherwise a fairly bleak tale of human frailty.

His daughter had gone to Milano, Brunetti reflected, site of the Brera Gallery, site of Leonardo's Cenacolo, site of the greatest Gothic Cathedral in Italy, and she had gone shopping.

Brunetti is assisted as usual by the ever reliable Ispettore Vianello, and the cool computer expert Signorina Elettra, while the sycophantic Vice-Questore Patta is up to his usual tricks.

She promised to get to it when the Vice-Questore was safely off to the Island of Ponza, where he and his family were to be the guests of the head of the city council of Venice, who had a summer home there.
'Yet another way to ensure the complete objectivity of the forces of order in any investigation of local politicians', Brunetti said when he heard the name of Patta's host.

Donna Leon writes to a formula that is successful because of the interesting characters, the Venetian setting, Brunetti's meals, and also because the books recount the struggles of honest men like Brunetti and Vianello trying to work in a system that is basically corrupt. Within her cleverly varied plots she is able to discuss all the problems that beset Italy including immigration, Mafia, the Church and endemic nepotism.
I know I will continue to read this fine series.

14 Comments:

Blogger Maxine said...

Great review, Norman. I read a library copy of this book recently and agree it is a superior forumula. I've actually just finished the latest Leon, Drawing Conclusions, kindly sent to me by the publisher under the auspicies of Karen. Let me know if you'd like me to send it on to you when I've written up my review.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Margot Kinberg said...

Norman - An excellent review of what I thought was also a fine, fine book. And you're quite right about Leon being very much in her game in this one. It's interesting (to me, anyway) how Leon ties the threads of the plot together in this one, too.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Maxine thanks and despite the fact my TBR mountain has grown I would love the latest Leon.
I am 120 odd pages into The Leopard at the moment but Jo Nesbo and Don Bartlett have me hooked. Do you want it when I have finished?

11:37 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Margot. I think it must have been the early Aurelio Zen books that introduced me to the Italian justice system, where the police never actually solve a case. ;o)
I think A Question of Belief is Donna Leon's best since Friends In High Places.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Love Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti, Paola Brunetti, Signorina Elettra, and all of the rest of the cast.

When I receive one of her books, all else falls by the wayside, and I read until the last page is turned.

The characters are interesting, as are the plots. And Leon never fails to point the finger at those in high places as the culprit(s).

The fact that rarely is anyone actually brought to court or sentenced to jail is probably true in Italy, especially since the suspects here are wealthy, privileged and highly connected.

That's one of the things I enjoy about Leon's books. Although readers in the U.S., I've heard, want everything tied up neatly with justice wrought upon all culprits, the reality is probably what Leon says it is--especially since she lives in Italy, and is a very astute woman.

May this series go on ad infinitum.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Agreed Kathy. It is unfortunate that here in the UK we are becoming more and more like Italy. We even have a coalition government with a Deputy Prime Minister who admits to sleeping with no more than 30 women!

3:14 PM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

And in Britain, a horrendous action is the billions in budget cuts, which will affect all but the wealthy--actually, they'll do quite well.

I'm glad to see so many people protested in London.

I'm sure there is just as much wheeling and dealing there as in the States.

And I can really only criticize things over here, where the super-rich are not getting higher taxes, and every social program is on the chopping block--health care, children's nutritional programs, child care, early childhood education, then elementary school education, just everything. And Social Security and Medicare for retired and dsiabled people.

And the corporations have the highest profits on record, Wall Street and the banks are doing quite well, bonuses are up again.

And people are suffering, and more will suffer. And dental care, which I think of when I blog here, that's been wiped out everywhere for poor people, the elderly, etc.

And subsidized dental care--which I think of at this blog--has been eliminated in so many states, for children, adults and the elderly.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Maxine said...

Thanks, Norman, but I've already got (on Kindle) and read The Leopard...quite a tome as you say. I'll send the Leon as soon as I can. Leon and Nesbo are quite a contrast, aren't they, in terms of plot speed if nothing else!

12:02 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Maxine you are right reading Nesbo is a life style commitment. Good thinking getting it on Kindle, but I might lose weight with all the exercise of carrying it up and down stairs!

2:50 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Kathy please don't get me started on the cuts for the disabled and elderly. Our most vulnerable citizens are paying for the failures of politicians and bankers.

As far as NHS [public health subsidized] dentistry in this country it seems the fees for dentists jumped shortly after I retired!
When I was trying to sell my surgery several prospective purchasers when told it was NHS, and not private, put the phone down on me.

The protesters case was spoilt by the violence caused by a small minority only interested in bringing down the government. I can't stand this coalition government, but the previous lot [Blair and Gordon 'golden age of banking' Brown] in thirteen years in power spent more time battling among themselves than running the country.

I would call the bankers bluff, tax them hard, and if they go abroad not let them back in for Wimbledon, cricket at Lords, Epsom Derby, Henley Rowing, Twickenham rugby and Royal Garden parties. ;O)

3:21 AM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Try to look at the bright side of the protests--the 99% of protesters who marched with signs and made the case strongly.

I saw this on Google news, and other news. That was great.

The same situation is going on in the States with women, poor people, elderly and disabled--and children, paying the price for the bankers and rich folks.

I just read in the NY Times that General Electric, the richest corporation in the U.S., paid no taxes last year.

And meanwhile, children's nutritional programs and early childhood education are being cut, medical care for poor, elderly and disabled people; the public schools are in peril, etc.

Oh, well, this is a reason to read Leon, Nesbo and more--distraction, enjoyment, etc.

I am reading Nesbo's Nemesis now on a friend's recommendation. I am at the computer, but the book is compelling me to pick it up every moment I can.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Oh, speaking of Jo Nesbo, I am totally hooked in "Nemesis." Didn't think I could like this series so much with all of the "the next Stieg Larsson" hype--which he isn't.

But is this ever a good book! Up for half the night, no tasks done, no New York Times read.

I'm smitten--with a book! And a character! Who knew? I guess some of my favorite websites knew, but I am bowled over.

I don't care the order. A friend, who is usually right about books I'd like, highly recommended it.

And I'll pass it along to another reader who will like it.

So here is a Scandinavian writer who is not unworthy of the praise, as are some, in my view.

So glad to have found this series.

3:43 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Kathy pleased you are enjoying Nemesis, one of my favourite Nesbos. You are lucky if you have the next in the series The Devil's Star [absolutely superb] to read.

5:41 AM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I take reading advice easily, especially when in the midst of a good book, which is in a series. On to The Devil's Star if it's in the library.

Actually, I have four reserve books at the library, so Nesbo's may have to wait for a bit.

3:36 PM  

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