Another excellent Commissario Brunetti mystery…
As usual, Donna Leon has given readers a wonderful mystery in Transient Desires, the thirtieth title in her Commissario Guido Brunetti series. On the face of it, the story starts out as a simple investigation: Who were the two men who sped away in a boat after dropping two badly injured American girls at the dock of the Ospedale Civile (Venice’s main hospital) late one Saturday night – actually early Sunday morning? How did the girls get hurt? And why did the men, who were hardly more than boys, flee? The ospedale had security cameras on its dock though, so in the small world of the Venetian lagoon, it’s not long before the men are identified. And on the surface, it seems as if that should be that.
But it’s not. One of the two men is far more nervous than he should be. So Brunetti decides to look into matters a bit more, with the help of many of his usual colleagues: Signorina Elettra, Commissario Griffoni, Vianello, Pucetti and others. Sure enough, there’s more going on than is apparent at first, and readers get to follow along as Brunetti and his team do some traditional sleuthing: interviewing the local garbage man (who happens to have an architecture degree, but can’t find a job), searching records (legally or otherwise), coordinating with the Guardia Costiera, etc. And Brunetti also does some not-so-traditional sleuthing: the mental picture of Brunetti posing as a timid mid-level bureaucrat while talking with a suspect who’s quite a nasty bully will stay in readers’ minds for a long time!
One of the things that makes Leon’s books so special, though, is that in addition to giving readers a nice mystery to puzzle through, Leon also tackles some tough and timely issues. Whether it’s pollution from the factories at Marghera, the prejudice against immigrants who are coming by land and by sea, the hollowing-out of Venice as a place for locals to live, or even just Chinese-made “Murano” glass, a Brunetti mystery provides food for thought. In Transient Desires, Leon returns to a subject she has addressed before, but with a new and horrific gut-punch of a twist partway through that readers will not forget easily.
As I’ve said elsewhere on my blog, my default rating tends to be four stars, and I save five stars for a very very few of the books that I read. If I had any issue with Transient Desires, it’s that author Leon, who is not known for “feel-good” endings, was even a little harsher with the end to this book than normal. But the harshness is not inappropriate, and Transient Desires gets five stars from me. And my thanks to Leon’s publisher, Grove Atlantic, for the advance review copy.