Drawing Conclusions – Donna Leon

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When a widow living in a large apartment in Venice is discovered dead with suspicious marks on her collarbone and a bloody gash on her head, Commissario Guido Brunetti senses foul play. The coroner says heart attack but he, too, is troubled by the signs of violence. Brunetti sets out to satisfy his hunch and ends up digging beneath the benign surface of Venice’s  social services in his quest for answers.

Drawing Conclusions is the twentieth Commissario Guido Brunetti novel in Donna Leon’s popular mystery series and all the pieces that make these puzzles international best sellers are in place. Signora Altavilla, the dead women, has been running a shelter for abused women who might be illegal immigrants. The nursing home where she volunteered holds more secrets and those have to do with wills, fabulous fortunes, missing art, unrequited love and confessional guilt.

The detective walks the streets of his city to sort through the clues he finds—and to get around. Brunetti prefers going on foot through the familiar byways of Venice so we get mini-tours of neighborhoods, architecture and the cafes where he grabs a quick coffee or a glass of wine and lunch. The spoken exchanges and Brunetti’s inner dialog are taut and constructive—Leon’s mysteries feature literate, intelligent characters who aren’t ashamed to quote classics or deduce motives by examining emotions. The usual cast of suspects and Questura personnel add color and personality to photo-worthy glimpses of the city. Vice-Questura Patta is still an ass and his executive assistant Signorina Elettra, major hacker and couture queen of the cop shop, is still competently breaking privacy laws to supply Brunetti with leads.

Guido Brunetti’s family life is a warm counterpoint to the crimes he confronts. Paola Brunetti cooks delectable lunches, takes delivery of a case of Moët from a grateful student in her Henry James seminar, and puts up with her husband’s over-zealous work ethic. The teens, Chiara and Raffi, grace the family table with their presence and hold their own in mealtime conversation. Brunetti’s humanity is his ace and it’s in full view in this novel, both at home and at the scene of the crime.

What the commissario finds is not what he expected but is definitely not legal and not simple. Leon excels in painting in shades of gray and Drawing Conclusions is complex and richly ambiguous. In the end, Brunetti knows what happened and why and a lot more about the seamy underside of everything in the city he loves. And he applies his own standard of justice to resolve crimes that cannot touch the dead but continue to haunt the living.

Drawing Conclusions: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery (Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries)   Donna Leon | Atlantic Monthly Press   2011

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