For the 10th book in her Commissario Brunetti series Donna Leon takes us away from her traditional settings in Venice and instead focuses on the Venetian island of Pellestrina. Most people are familiar with the islands of Murano and Burano, but there are many other islands in the Venetian lagoon, and this one in particular is known for its clamming and fishing industry.
As in all of her books Leon manages to sculpt a plot around a social or political issue, and here she points her spotlight at the fishing industry, overfishing, as well as the major problem of the pollution in the lagoons and all the waters in and around Venice. In this book we see a tightly knit fishing community that holds its secrets close to the vest, even when those secrets could help solve a murder. And here we have two murders, a father and a son, both of whom are killed on their fishing boat which also caught fire and sank right off the docks of Pellestrina.
Nobody wants to talk, and after the initial information was taken by the Carabinieri, the case is assigned to Brunetti. Neither he nor his trusted sidekick Vianello are able to get any information from the residents of the island and after a frustrating few days it is Senorita Elletra who decides to go to the island and snoop around. Brunetti arranges for another policeman to also go undercover, although he is not at all comfortable with the situation, and Brunetti realizes that he has grown fonder of Senorita Elletra than he wishes to acknowledge, his concern for the secretary is noticeable to one and all and it effects this entire investigation.
And while we began with two murderers there will soon be a third which complicates things even more as Brunetti is stumped as to whether this third murder relates to the first two murders. This book is a slow burn and yet when it picks up speed you can’t put the book down. As Brunetti and his team struggle to find the killers, they also struggle with the social issues surrounding the sea, the pollution and the overfishing. Having personally been to Venice three times I can tell you that each time I have been there the situation with the pollution and plastic bottles that are in and around the city and lagoon gets worse and worse and worse, and it is this issue that pervades the entire novel.
The book climaxes with a dramatic storm that comes in off the Adriatic Sea, a storm so powerful it dwarfs all prior storms that have hit those outer islands, and it during this storm that even more harm occurs. We have no idea who will live through that storm, who will die, whose lives will be changed and it is one of the most powerful endings that Leon has written in all her books. Donna Leon writes a book that has her usual ambivalent ending, by that I mean that there is justice that is done, but maybe not all the justice that you or I or Brunetti would wish to have meted out.
If you follow my reviews you know I’m a big fan of Donna Leon and this book has done nothing to change that opinion. She is a “go to” author for me and I love her books on Venice, the characters she has created and the social and political problems that she points out in each and every one of her books. It’s one thing to have a crime novel, but it’s another thing to have it all revolve around a social or political issue, and nobody does it better that Donna Leon.