A rare-book thief is the target in Commissario Guido Brunetti’s 23rd case.
Since Venice’s Biblioteca Merula is open to anyone who can provide the proper credentials, it’s been the obvious place for Joseph Nickerson, professor of European history at the University of Kansas, to do his research. But when Nickerson suddenly vanishes after three weeks of daily visits, his credentials turn out to be anything but proper. Nor is he the only thing that’s vanished. Several of the rare books he consulted have gone missing, and pages and illustrative plates have been removed from many others. Dottoressa Patrizia Fabbiani, director of the Merula, can’t imagine how such a thing could have happened under the watchful eyes of library guard Piero Sartor. Even more puzzling is the silence of Aldo Franchini, a regular visitor for three years whom the library staff has dubbed “Tertullian” for his preferred reading about the church fathers. Franchini sat close to Nickerson every day; he can’t have failed to see him remove pages from the precious volumes. Why didn’t he say anything, and what can Brunetti do about it? If you think book theft is no big deal, you’re in good company; neither does Vice-Questore Giuseppe Patta, Brunetti’s invincibly dim superior. Only the offense the thefts may give Contessa Elisabetta Morosini-Albani, the wealthy widow whose donations have financed many of the library’s acquisitions, rouses Patta, not to action, but at least to acquiescence in Brunetti’s investigation, which inevitably leads to revelations of blackmail and murder.
Brunetti (The Golden Egg, 2013, etc.) spends less time with both his charming family and his highly variable colleagues than usual; and with the exception of Franchini, the characters remain distantly evoked rather than vividly present. This one really is for readers who love books.