Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Through a Glass, Darkly by Donna Leon: A review

Time for a trip to Venice to see what's happening with Commissario Guido Brunetti. It is spring in Venice and Guido is enjoying the early greening of the vegetation and the soft, sunny days of the season. He takes every opportunity he can to escape from his office at the Questura and bask in the sensual vernal pleasures.

But, of course, as always happens, work has a way of interfering with Guido's pleasure.

In this instance, it starts with his assistant Vianello asking him to intervene in a case in which a friend of his who is an environmental activist has been arrested during a protest. It turns out there really is no case against the man, Ribetti, and he is released. But as they are leaving the police station they encounter the man's father-in-law, Giovanni De Cal, who is the owner of a glass factory in Murano. De Cal despises his son-in-law and is furious with him for being arrested. He takes Ribetti's environmental activism as a personal affront. He accosts his son-in-law and threatens him, as he has been known to do before.

It's not clear whether De Cal is a man who would actually act on his threats of violence, but soon after, his night watchman is found dead under suspicious circumstances next to one of the factory furnaces. The night watchman had believed that harmful chemicals in the soil and water had been responsible for the disability of his little daughter and he had been investigating the soil and water around the glass factories to try to prove his theory. Had De Cal or the other owners considered him a threat that they had to get rid of?

We know from experience that any case that Brunetti investigates is going to uncover a morass of corruption, both public and private, and that happens once again here. It turns out that some of the Murano glass factories, including De Cal's, have been evading regulations that were put in place to ensure that they were not poisoning the soil and water and inspectors had not discovered the infractions. It was left to people like the night watchman to ferret out the information and make it known. But the challenge for Brunetti is to prove that the man was murdered instead of dying by accident, or, failing that, to at least hold the factories accountable for their pollution and the danger they pose to public health.  It's a tall order especially when the owners of the factories have powerful political allies, but Brunetti and Vianello are seasoned warriors in the battle with Italian bureaucracy.

I found the plot of this entry in the Commissario Brunetti series to be particularly interesting and well-done, and I learned quite a bit about the ancient art of glass-making in the process of reading it. The characters, as usual, are well-drawn.  Donna Leon has done a good job of keeping this long-running series fresh and entertaining.  On the whole, I count this as one of the better reads in this series.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars   

11 comments:

  1. Sounds good. The glassmaking angle seems like it adds a little flavor to the story. I saw a documentary on the subject a few years ago. It is fascinating stuff.

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    1. Yes, I thought that was interesting, and, of course, Murano has a long tradition of glass-making so there was that historical aspect as well.

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  2. This is one of my favorite books in the Commissario Brunetti series, Dorothy. I didn't like some of the later ones and have stopped reading them now. BTW -- have you read American Dirt by Jeannine Cummins yet? Definitely a must-read. P. x

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    1. I did indeed read American Dirt. Here's a link to my review: https://birdwoman-thenatureofthings.blogspot.com/2020/02/american-dirt-by-jeanine-cummins-review.html

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  3. I always think it is cool when there is an 'educational' aspect to a novel, I think glass-making is terribly interesting.

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    1. Yes, it is always nice to be educated AND entertained.

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  4. I seem to remember you felt some disappointment in the last book you read in this series though I might have it confused with another series you read. I am glad you liked this one so well. The story about the environmental issues is timely.

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    1. Your memory is good. The last one I read was a disappointment, so it's good to see her get back on track with this one.

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  5. Hey Dorothy,Thank you so much for sharing the review which I was waiting for long to get along. I think glass-making is terribly mind-blowing, Happy to know that you liked this one that your previous one. I hope the book covers more fascinating stuff. Best wishes dear. Have a great week.

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  6. I like the glass-making angle; it certainly adds a fascinating layer to the mystery and the investigation.

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