Wait, did that just happen? Did I just read a Donna Leon novel in which Guido Brunetti fails to find the criminal? Have we come to this? A point when a reliable procedural-mystery writer actually declines to solve the mystery?
For a while now Leon has seemed to be chafing a little bit at the limitations of her chosen form. Her detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti, appears more and more depressed by the chaotic state of Italy and the impossibility of bringing anyone to justice. In Drawing Conclusions, though, we’ve reached a situation where Brunetti’s own moral compass takes over from the law after his detective flair convinces him that an old woman’s death of an apparent heart attack might have been prompted by violence.
As usual with Leon, there’s a social-concerns component to Drawing Conclusions; in this case, the plight of battered women. But there’s also a great deal of rumination about old age and the passage of time as Brunetti’s investigation introduces him to the residents of a posh Venetian nursing home. Leon seats these books firmly in Brunetti’s consciousness and I was more aware than ever of what an appealing character she has made of him. Patient, generous, occasionally obtuse, he possesses a finely-tuned sense of justice. In this novel, he’s more prone than usual to second-guess himself, as he encourages his colleague Signorina Elettra (the Venetian answer to Lisbeth Salander) in highly illegal Web research. Even more strikingly, he confronts a potential culprit and has to confront also his innate distaste for the man: to what extent does his dislike affect his handling of the case?
The novel’s end is abrupt, and I don’t know if I have interpreted it correctly. Yet I think Donna Leon has earned the right to tinker with this genre and the book’s final ambiguity is surprisingly satisfying.