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Leon, Donna - 'The Girl of His Dreams'
Hardback: 288 pages (Apr. 2008) Publisher: William Heinemann Ltd ISBN: 0434018023

Following the funeral of his mother Guido Brunetti is approached by Padre Antonin Scallon who gave a benediction over the grave, with worries about a friend who is going to sell his apartment. The funds from this sale will go to Leonardo Mutti, leader of a small group called the Children of Jesus Christ, and Padre Antonin is suspicious.

Guido is just as worried by the mysterious Antonin Scallon who has returned from twenty years as a missionary in the Congo under a cloud of suspicion. Guido, Paola, Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello and his wife Nadia go to of the meetings of the group, and Signorina Elettra is designated to use her skills to investigate both Mutti and Scallon.

Meanwhile Brunetti and Vianello pull out the dead body of a young girl from the Grand Canal. There is no report of a missing child and no report of the theft of the gold watch and wedding ring concealed on the child's body. The autopsy shows that despite her young age the child was suffering from a venereal disease. Brunetti and Vianello are drawn into an investigation that leads them from the encampment of the poorest Roma people to the apartments of the well connected, and have to face some of the dreadful problems that blight our western world.

This is a return to form for Donna Leon after the slightly disappointing SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN. We have in this novel more of the brilliant vignettes of family life and conversations between Brunetti and Paola, and between Brunetti and Vianello that are so illuminating. Italy has the same problems of institutional prejudice and a criminal class outside the law that affects other European countries, but it also has the massive division between north and south to complicate matters.

Orazio Falier, Brunetti's father in law has taken to referring to Sicily and Calabria as "occupied territory" outside the rule of law. While Paola gives her opinion "I suspect if it's Napoli, they are more likely to be going down to the corner for a litre of cocaine." But Leon, in the discussions that occur in the story, captures the problem of contemporary society and the dichotomy between our wish to help the unfortunate and our inability to cope with the shattering changes this brings to our once comfortable world.

"But I think I'm tired, tired to death, of always having to express the right sympathies…one way to speak publicly and a different way to speak honestly."

This is a thoughtful and informative book while still maintaining a lot of the humour, usually concerning the relationship between Brunetti and his overbearing superior Vice-Questore Patta, that makes reading Donna Leon such a pleasure.

Read another review of THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS.

Norman Price, England
August 2008

Norman blogs at Crime Scraps.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 10/01/2010 12:09