They have a tightrope to walk, these writers of murder mysteries. On the one hand, they are constrained by their genre to offer readers the conventional experience: a puzzle in the course of which damage is done and order, ultimately, is restored. On the other hand, they have to do this in a guise that feels authentic, both for our era and for them personally. I don’t think it’s any surprise that mysteries are getting very dark these days, but it’s discomfiting when they lapse into the cynical.
The formula of Donna Leon‘s Venetian series has always been to pit her detective, Marshal Guido Brunetti, against two enemies at a time. He has to catch his murderers while avoiding interference from the seriocomic machinations of his boss. In The Girl of His Dreams, the victim is a Roma girl of eleven and poor Brunetti makes no headway with either her hostile father (who sends the girl into Venice to burgle apartments) or, ultimately, the killer, who is protected by his high social status.
He takes his consolations, as usual, from his family and friends, the beauty of Venice, the excellence of his meals. Leon’s a good writer but a faint whiff of weariness with her formula lingers.