Leon, Donna - 'Drawing Conclusions'
The twentieth novel in the acclaimed series about Venice policeman Commissario Brunetti is enjoyable whether or not you have read any of the previous volumes. Unlike the past two or three of Brunetti's cases, DRAWING CONCLUSIONS (there's a double clue in the title) starts out as a traditional murder mystery, when a young woman returns from a disappointing holiday to find her older neighbour dead. According to the pathologist, the death was caused by a heart attack, but there are sufficient suspicious indications for Brunetti to devote the next few days to finding out what might have caused the fatal seizure.
On one level, the pace of this novel is glacial, with pages devoted to walking across a square or buying some flowers as Brunetti ruminates on anything and everything. On another, the reader is thus forced to address the issues that the author wants us to think about - in this case two of her familiar themes of the plight of Italy's immigrants and that of women victims of domestic abuse, seem to be at the heart of the possible crime. But soon the focus shifts away as leads dry up, and Brunetti's initially disappointing enquires at an old people's home provide him with some renewed cause for thought.
I always find the domestic interludes the most enjoyable parts of Donna Leon's novels, and DRAWING CONCLUSIONS is no exception, as each day Brunetti either has lunch with his family or forgets to turn up. Perhaps the least successful aspect of the series after so many novels is the over-dependence on Signora Elettra's computer hacking abilities and social connections to unearth "magically" the crucial clues that lead Brunetti to the truth. Other recurring themes are perhaps becoming a little tired, for example one is frequently told of the awfulness of Vice Questore Patta and Lt Scarpa, yet these characters' evident greed for self-advancement is so much in the background that the repeated criticism seems a little mechanical.
Brunetti here is showing a few signs of age, for example his relationship with his wife Paola is becoming more overtly comfortable (they have a very strong relationship but usually it is amusingly astringent), and Brunetti reflects several times on what he finds a slight lack of respect to him from longstanding colleagues such as the trusty Lt Vianello and Signora Elettra (also showing some signs of age) - in previous novels one feels he would have been one of them rather than, as here, slightly detached.
DRAWING CONCLUSIONS is a somewhat formulaic novel, but the formula is superior, written with thought and care. I suspect we may not have too many radical changes to look forward to in the structure of forthcoming novels, but nevertheless this fact does not detract from making them very pleasant to read, not least in their loving depiction of the Venetian world as well as in their treatment of social and (Italian) political issues.
Maxine Clarke, England