Donna Leon, “About Face”

I’m beginning to feel a little bit sorry for Donna Leon. For years it seemed as if she had a great gig, living in Italy, writing popular murder mysteries set in Venice — what a fantasy! The problem is that the reality of living in Italy has begun to get darker and darker. About Face goes so far as to compare Italy’s state of lawlessness to that of Somalia, and Leon makes a pretty good case for this assertion.

In this book the bad deeds have to do with refuse. We all know about the Neapolitan situation with the trash in the streets, and the deep involvement of organized crime with the industries that do or don’t remove trash and take it where it’s supposed to go. If you think about it, the situation couldn’t be confined to Naples alone. So this is what Commissario Brunetti investigates this time around.

The spin is the presence of a character, Franca Marinello, whom Brunetti meets at a dinner party and likes very much despite her face which has apparently been ruined by overly drastic plastic surgery. Leon’s working with metaphor here: Brunetti’s inability to see beyond Marinello’s face, and his haste to judge her, impairs his ability to grasp what is really happening in the baffling garbage case, which soon includes a murder.

Leon writes a terrific scene that takes place in some abandoned fuel tanks, in which a young eager cop is viciously burned by merely touching some toxic goop that’s leaked out of its barrels. (Given the emphatic way Leon signaled this, I was afraid he was going to be shot, so merely losing a bunch of skin to poisonous slime came as quite a relief.) The bad guys who are trafficking in the stuff aren’t even identified, let alone brought to justice. I’m pretty sure Leon thinks there’s none of that to be had in Italy right now.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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