A Refiner’s Fire by Donna Leon is coming Tuesday – a review

Brunetti books always feel like coming home, even though I don’t live in Venice…

In a series with thirty-three books (!!!), one could be forgiven for thinking that it would be hard to keep producing engaging books that draw readers in, while also making them think.   But Donna Leon consistently pulls this off (see here and here and here), and A Refiner’s Fire is quite simply the latest example.

Venice is changing with the times, hollowing out so that more tourists visit, but fewer people actually live there.  And into some of that empty space have come “baby gangs” of young teens who organize on social media, but then sometimes get together to fight for real.  Although no one – including, apparently, the teens themselves – can really figure out why they’re fighting.

A Refiner’s Fire opens with one such scene, which the police manage to control, bringing the erstwhile combatants to the station to be picked up by their parents.   But one of the kids doesn’t get picked up by his war-hero dad, Dario Monforte. So Commissario Claudia Griffoni channels her colleague, Commissario Brunetti, and walks the boy home – a simple courtesy that doesn’t seem as if it should have repercussions.   Meanwhile, in what seems to be a separate incident, the station’s usually taciturn chief technician, Enzo Bocchese, confides to Brunetti his fears of his neighbors’ nasty and aggressive son.  And in what is still the small town of Venice, where coincidences aren’t that surprising, Brunetti gets asked to check out Monforte’s background, as a favor for an acquaintance of Brunetti’s boss, Vice-Questore Patta – and finds that there are definitely some irregularities there.  Mix all that together, and there is plenty for readers to figure out, following along with Brunetti and his usual crew.

One of the things I really appreciate about Leon’s books are that she helps me think about things that are often easier to gloss over.    But a book that just makes you think might be rather bleak, and in the end, I’m reading mysteries for pleasure too.    So it’s worth mentioning that A Refiner’s Fire still has all the good things that also keep me coming back to read each new book in the series:   Brunetti’s humanity and decency, even in circumstances that would make many quite cynical; Paola’s quirky but rock-solid sense of ethics; Brunetti’s team, who reflect back his own good attributes; and even Paola’s parents, sharp and engaged.   And of course, Signorina Elettra, of whose “extraordinary research abilities” it is said that “any database protection was a garden in which she delighted to play”.  And even more of course, Venice itself.

When ranked among all Brunetti books, A Refiner’s Fire is somewhere in the middle for me.   But the real ranking shouldn’t be against all the other Brunetti books, but against all the other books I could have chosen to read, and in that pond, it shines brilliantly.   (Apologies for the mixed metaphor, but you get the idea…)  Still, if you’re new to the series, I don’t think I’d choose this one to read first, but would head for the earlier ones, and read in order.   Luckily, though, one of the nice things about this series is that the books tend to go on sale fairly often.  So even once you get hooked, which you will, you won’t have to spend a lot of money while you read.

And finally, my thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the review copy.

Buy: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Kobo US | Kobo UK | Kobo Canada

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