I’ve been a big fan of Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series for years, ever since picking up some of the early series titles in paperback on a business trip to the UK – and then binge-reading three of them, one after the other, on the two airplane flights home.
And in the first couple of chapters of Give Unto Others, the thirty-first Brunetti book, Leon reminds me again of most of the reasons I love this series: Brunetti’s hard earned world-wisdom, which drifts into cynicism, but still retains an element of hope; the way he understands and values his wife, Paola, who can be quite intense at times; the delicious moments of snarkiness that pop up unexpectedly from time-to-time, mostly from Paola, but also from Brunetti; his respect for his colleagues (at least, those who deserve it); and of course, his love of his city of Venice. And in the process of reminding me of these, Leon also sets the stage quite nicely for readers who may not be familiar with the series.
In Give Unto Others, Brunetti tackles a problem brought to him by Elisabetta Foscarini, whose mother had been kind to Brunetti’s mother long ago. Foscarini says she is worried about her daughter after the daughter’s husband appears to have become mixed up in “something”, but it’s not clear if there is a crime or not. As a result of the old relationship, Brunetti agrees to take an informal look, off the record, and persuades some of his colleagues to help as well. Things may not be quite what they seem though, and the case blossoms into something much bigger before Brunetti and crew figure out what’s really going on.
One of the best things about a Brunetti book is that, in addition to the “main mystery”, Leon also tackles contemporary issues as well – usually compelling readers to think about them, without providing answers. (Indeed, many of the issues have no answers…) And although Give Unto Others isn’t quite as raw as Leon’s previous excellent, but rather dark, Transient Desires, we still end up contemplating dementia, social class, plain old greed, and of course, the pandemic.
All-in-all, Give Unto Others is a joy of a book on multiple levels, and it kept me reading and thinking far too late into the night. It very much deserves the five stars I’m giving it. And my thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the advance review copy.