Friday, February 13, 2009

The Girl of His Dreams; Donna Leon

This is my first foray into Ms. Leon's Guido Brunetti detective series. According to her publisher's site, linked to in the title above, "In her novels, homecooked food, family, renaissance art, Italian history, and local politics play as central a role as an unsolved crime." I borrowed this book as an audio book put out by BBC Audio, it is unabridged & read by David Colacci, released May 2008. I like Mr. Colacci's voice. A recent audiobook I listened to had a female narrator for a male protagonist, which I found, to my dismay, odd & slightly unsettling. Bonus for me, Mr. Colacci didn't drop me out of the story repeatedly.

I was fascinated with the portrayal of the life of ordinary Venetians, contemporary Italy and wider European issues. I was a little taken aback, however, when I was able to solve the crime just about as soon as the primary hint was dropped, which I felt was pretty obvious. Now ordinarily when I read mysteries I can't solve the crimes. I don't usually read mysteries carefully enough to solve them. I was more than a little nonplussed when I figured this one out.

I guess one could hypothesize and make the argument that if I don't read mysteries to solve them then my solving this one would be a bonus. You would be wrong. I want the author to lead me on a merry dance, all the way to final chapter when I will than say, "OMG- the clues were so obvious! I should've figured this one out." I watch Maigret and Montalbano mysteries on tv & I almost never solve them. That's ok. I don't want to solve them.

The positive side of the ledger is pretty long, though. Intimate detail of family life and inner dialogue done in a very natural and non info-dump kind of way. A detective who reads classic Greek dramas in his off time, and then relates them to his cases. His wife like Dickens, though, but I won't hold that against her. Government bureocracy grinds people up and spits them back, but somehow Brunetti's humanity and wholeness manages to survive relatively unscathed thanks to his family and his partner.

There is a heartfelt and seemingly thorough conversation about racism: personal, institutional and governmental. I'm American, though, so my knowledge of European racial issues, Italian racial issues in particular, is limited to what I've read in the New York Times. We watch as Commissario Brunetti's sense of duty, his desire to see what he feels is morally right, bumps up against political expediency, corruption and prevailing winds blowing far above his head.

Ms. Leon's love for Italy and her culture is obvious. If solving your mystery pleases you, if you don't mind an obvious solution, if you're interested in portrayals of contemporary Italy, than this is the book for you. I find Brunteei himself most compelling as a character so I've already ordered the previous mystery in the series, Suffer the Little Children.

No comments: