A dead body is found in a field near a slaughterhouse in Marghera, near Venice. At first glance, it appears to be one of the prostitutes who work the area around the abbatoir. But on examination, it turns out to be a man dressed in a woman's red dress and underwear and red silk shoes. The victim has been beaten about the head and face so badly that he is rendered unrecognizable.
When his gender is discovered, the assumption becomes that he is a transvestite prostitute and the investigation of the death at first proceeds on that theory. But you know what they say about assuming things...
It is the middle of August when all of this happens, vacation time for Italians. Commissario Guido Brunetti and his family have plans to escape the oppressive heat of Venice for two weeks on a refreshing trip to the mountains where, even in mid-summer, sweaters are required. Then he gets "the call." He has been assigned to head the investigation of this appalling murder. His wife and children go on to the mountains without him and he is stuck in the steamy, suffocating atmosphere of Venice trying to, first of all, learn the identity of the murder victim and then find out who killed him and bring that person to justice.
As the investigation proceeds, the body count mounts and Brunetti must once again wrestle with the corrupt bureaucracy of Italy where powerful people are able to buy the police and ensure the outcomes that they desire from government offices. Hmm...that does hit a bit too close to home.
Brunetti, of course, will not be bought. He is an upright and honorable man who loves his wife and children and goes home at night to eat peaches and read from Tacitus' Annals of Imperial Rome. While his wife is gone, he cooks wonderful, healthy meals for himself and cleans up after himself. What a man!
I really like the characters of Brunetti and his family. This is the third book in the series and the third one I have read and I find my affection for the characters growing with each installment.
That being said, this particular entry was not my favorite. I think I was put off in part by the constant references to the oppressive heat and humidity. I do know something about oppressive heat and humidity. It's late May here and our daily temperatures in Southeast Texas hover in the upper 90s F with humidity to match. Working in the garden for an hour requires a complete change of clothes when one comes inside else one drips all over the floor and furniture. So, yes, I do understand the pervasiveness of that particular climatic feature and how it dominates every other consideration, and I can understand that the author felt the need to continually refer to it. I guess I just found that a bit of overkill since I was living it every time I stepped outside. Another reader might have a completely different reaction.
Donna Leon is a very good writer and this was certainly not a bad book. It's just that, on the whole, I found it a bit bland.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars