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From the Commissario Guido Brunetti series, volume 20

by Donna Leon

Pub Date: April 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1979-7
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Perhaps the quietest of all Commissario Guido Brunetti’s cases concerns a murder that may not even be a murder.

“She was a good neighbor,” translator Anna Maria Giusti says of Costanza Altavilla, the ex-schoolteacher who lived downstairs until her fatal heart attack. There’s some indication that Signora Altavilla may have been manhandled shortly before her death—in fact, the rough treatment may even have led to her death—but Vice-Questore Giuseppe Patta, with his usual genius for the wrong decision, wants Brunetti to sign off on the case out of deference to her son, Claudio Niccolini, the former veterinarian of Patta’s own son. Naturally, Brunetti continues to make modest inquiries, and soon he’s discovered two promising lines of inquiry. The retired widow sheltered abused women for an organization called Alba Libera, and Maria Sartori, one of the nursing-home patients she worked with, was once involved in a dodgy maneuver that left the entire estate of Marie Reynard, a wealthy patron of the arts, in the hands of the late Benevento Cucetti, the lawyer who drew up her will. Was Signora Altavilla menaced by the abusive boyfriend looking for her latest tenant, or was it someone out of Maria Sartori’s past—if indeed she was menaced by anyone at all?

As languid in its movement as a gondola ride. Yet none of Brunetti’s earlier cases (About Face, 2009, etc.) is as remorselessly clear in connecting the delicately comic anti-authoritarian gestures Brunetti winks at to the miasma of corruption that hangs over his beloved Venice.