Much of my response to this novel resonates with the feelings in my review of Fredrickson’s similarly capable A Defence for the Dead. Leon is entirely capable in evoking elements of Venice, and she refreshingly never veers into the often ludicrous melodramatic action and dialogue so common in the genre. The opening, for example, felt really plausible, with all this time given to an intelligent woman having to deal with contemptuous bureaucracy, before finally bumping into someone with half a brain who’d take her seriously: anybody who’s had to deal with big institutions (and that’s probably most of her readers) knows how heroic it is to sometimes come across someone who will actually do their job. Moreover now this three-dimensional witness has introduced the basic mystery, she doesn’t have to predictably become the love interest dodging bullets, but graciously moves off stage. Yeah, refreshing.
It was also novel that Leon creates a setting where half the game of the protagonists is to work within this flawed, with varying levels of corruption and incompetence. And rather than the standard of some dramatic exposure of the evil inner circle, we generally see the more textured issue of working around or even manipulating dodgy colleagues to actually be able to do your job (perhaps that particularly resonated with me at the moment, and I wouldn’t have noticed it so much at other times in my work life J).
So, what’s not to like? Very little – although it seemed out of character and less admirable where at one point Brunetti just loses it and shouts an apparently pretty empty threat at his spiteful junior officer, something that could only work against his aims in the long run. [Spoiler] And I never like it when the ultimate clue (c.f.Christie’s generally inferior N or M) is discovered by sheer accident – please, don’t hinge an entire story on someone tripping over fortuitously.
But that’s not my main beef. Getting back to the Fredrickson comparison, it’s the question, “Is it enough to not get anything particularly wrong?”. It’s impressive – but is it enough. Nothing much made me groan or roll my eyes, but nothing really grabbed me either – the book never soared for me, there were no really special moments. I’d be prepared to try other books (particularly specific recommendations) – Leon is entirely capable – but I’m not going out of my way.