I don’t typically read the same book twice—at least not for this book-a-day challenge–but this one has to go back to the library and I was curious about the lovely digressions that created a somewhat leisurely pace and a deeper portrait of my favorite Venice homicide detective. So I read Donna Leon’s Beastly Things again, looking for those moments, and they are not digressions at all.
The exchange between Police Commissario Guido Brunetti and the Vice-Questura’s executive assistant Signorina Elettra about unemployment and the soul rot that can accompany working with money reveals more of the delightful Elettra, gives a reminder of important elements of Brunetti’s background—his family connections—and prefigures disclosures about the motive for the murder. A conversation with his old pal, the medical examiner, establishes the fact that Brunetti is aging, if not exactly rushing headlong into decrepitude, and depicts the rich relationship of two humanitarians trying to deconstruct criminal behavior.
A bedtime story recounted by a murder victim’s widow is an exact parable for the victim’s life and the circumstances that led to violent death. Interludes with marvelous Paola, Brunetti’s college professor wife and the independent-minded daughter of a wealthy and influential Venetian family, sketch his warm home life, solid values and the contrast between his marriage and the fractured relationships of various people involved in the murder.
All the “digressions” fill in the palette of colorful characters and contemporary issues, like the choice to eat vegetarian and avoid meat, and they contain clues about the crime. It’s so well-done that the seams are invisible—no work for the reader because it is all taken care of by the writer. So, re-reading Beastly Things was very satisfying and even illuminating. I might revisit the first book in the series, Death at La Fenice , to track how Donna Leon’s treatment of Guido Brunetti and his Venice have evolved.
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