Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 March 2022 from Hutchinson Heinemann
My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review
The gifted Venetian detective returns in his 31st case – this time, investigating the Janus-faced nature of yet another Italian institution. Brunetti will have to once again face the blurred line that runs between the criminal and the non-criminal, bending police rules, and his own character, to help an acquaintance in danger.
Returning to the world of Commisario Guido Brunetti is usually bliss. This time, though, Brunetti is dealing with an unsettling case in deeply unnerving times and it is creeping into his domestic life, though it is only one acute exchange that displays this. The pandemic has done much damage to Venice. Shops have closed and gone bankrupt and the many, many places that relied on tourists for their income have long since died, leaving behind derelict shopfronts which are continuously being looted by gangs of disaffected youth.
Brunetti is approached by a woman he has known for many years. She used to be a neighbour and he remembers her mother her mother so well. She was kind to his own mother and in the way of these things, that very fact makes Brunetti want to be of service, even if he must do so unofficially, at Elisabetta Foscarini’s insistence.
Signora Elettra is dealing with a slight issue of her own, but never doubt that she is capable of dealing with it quietly and efficiently. She, together with Lorenzo Vianello and Claudia Griffoni will work with Brunetti ‘off the books’ to look into the circumstances of Elisabeth Foscarini’s son-in-law, Fenzo, who is an accountant. Foscarini is a little concerned about something her daughter has reported and this has set off a trail which she alerts Brunetti to and which he follows.
It’s neither a long nor a difficult task but it leads to an investigation into a medical charity that Foscarini’s husband founded, relating to a hospital in Belize.
Brunetti’s talents lie as much in his understanding of the human psyche as they do in his detecting skills and it is in delving into relationships that answers come forward. This time the situation is complicated by one of the potentially key players having dementia. Donna Leon offers a strong and emotional portrait of a family dealing with a loved one in such circumstances and it is impossible not to be affected by her scenario. It also offers up something of a moral and ethical dilemma for Brunetti to navigate and this is, of course, prime Donna Leon territory.
We learn a little more of Brunetti’s upbringing and why he thinks the way he does, in this slow burn of a novel. His thoughts are never so far away from his mother and the working class life he grew up in. This has made him acutely aware of language, accent and the nuance of language and he uses it to great effect in his dealings with people. But Brunetti never loses his emotional connection with Venice and he understands its class structure which is perhaps why he gets on so well with his wife’s parents, aristocrats who can trace their lineage back to old Venetian times.
Give Unto Others is a complex tale and one in which the motivation of some is easy to fathom but for others lies deep in a murky tangle of human behaviour. It is Brunetti’s ability to decipher motivation based on what and how he hears others speak that makes him one of the more interesting detectives around.
Venetian politics within and out with the Polizia di Stato in Venice also play their usual part in muddying the waters but in the end it is Brunetti’s understanding of the fundamentals of human nature that unravels the answers, even as he realises, slightly too late, that his normally acute antennae have missed an obvious player in this Venetian dance of manners. The pandemic, it seems, has knocked everyone slightly off their game. A delightful read.
Donna Leon is author of the much-loved, best-selling series of novels featuring Commissario Brunetti and one of The Times’ 50 Greatest Crime Writers. Widely considered one of the best detective series ever, the Brunetti Mysteries have won numerous awards around the world and been translated into thirty-five languages. After teaching English in Saudi Arabia, Iran and China Donna Leon moved to Venice in 1981, having fallen in love with the city, its food, culture and people. A fluent Italian speaker, she lived there for thirty years before moving to Switzerland, though she still spends around a week each month in the City of Bridges – she has said about Venice, ‘Where else in the world is everything you look at beautiful?’ Published when she was 49, the idea for Donna Leon’s debut novel Death at La Fenice came about when she attended a rehearsal at Venice’s Teatro La Fenice opera house. A friend muttered, ‘I could kill the conductor’, and the idea of the plot was born, along with the character of Guido Brunetti. Feverishly writing the manuscript in between shifts at her day job teaching military personnel at a nearby US Army barracks she left it in a desk for a year before being encouraged by a friend to submit it for the Suntory Mystery Fiction Grand Prize. Awarded the Prize, along with a two-book publishing contract, Donna Leon has written a new Brunetti mystery every year since. Published in her eightieth year, Give Unto Others is the thirty-first.