Commissario Guido Brunetti returns in By Its Cover, the 23rd instalment of Donna Leon’s highly acclaimed crime series. Although the plot is recognisable, the narrative is lively and sharply written with a charming style, defined characters and enough space to make this a good – if familiar – treat.
The book is full of the elements one would expect in Leon’s novels: Venice is lovingly created, with each description seeming more detailed than its predecessors; motives and details are immaculately expressed; and there’s a great deal of political censure and deceptive thoughtfulness.
The author uses her work to explore deeply emotive issues and corruption in both Venetian and Italian affairs. This new work is no different, devoting much of its venom to reproaching art vandalism and book theft.
Brunetti is called to an esteemed Venetian library, where he discovers that several antiquarian books have either been stolen or damaged. The prime suspect is an American, but he has disappeared and his credentials prove to be forgeries. As the investigation advances, other suspects arise, including a theologian named Franchini. When Franchini is murdered, Brunetti realises the black market for manuscript books has a dark underbelly. In order to find a killer, the Commissario must catch a thief.
Leon uses Brunetti’s deep introspection to combine themes of law enforcement, procedure and family life with a meticulous image of a disappearing Venice and comment on the depletion of cultural heritage. This isn’t a typical genre offering, but an interesting novel from a writer of some consequence.