"Your situation is always ambiguous, isn't it, Guido?", his father-in-law, Count Orazio Falier, observes of Donna Leon's soulful detective, Guido Brunetti, at the beginning of her superb 28th Brunetti novel, Unto Us A Son Is Given . "The world we live in makes that necessary," Brunetti presciently replies. Count Falier was urging his Venetian son-in-law to investigate, and preferably intervene in, the seemingly innocent plan of the Count's best friend, the elderly Gonzalo Rodríguez de Tejada, to adopt a much younger man as his son. Under Italian inheritance laws this man would then be heir to Gonzalo's entire fortune, a prospect Gonzalo's friends find appalling. For his part, Brunetti wonders why the old man, a close family friend, can't be allowed his pleasure in peace. And yet, what seems innocent on the Venetian surface can cause tsunamis beneath. Gonzalo unexpectedly, and literally, drops dead on the street, and one of his friends just arrived in Venice for the memorial service, is strangled in her hotel room--having earlier sent Gonzalo an email saying "We are the only ones who know you cannot do this," referring to the adoption. Now with an urgent case to solve, Brunetti reluctantly untangles the long-hidden mystery in Gonzalo's life that ultimately led to murder--a resolution that brings him way more pain than satisfaction. Once again, Donna Leon brilliantly plumbs the twists and turns of the human condition, reuniting us with some of crime fiction's most memorable and enduring characters.--
Brunetti's friends are aging. Men he has cherished all his life are growing frail and cantankerous. They are dying.
At the end of his long life, Gonzalo Rodreguez de Tejada, a wealthy art dealer, decides to reward his lover by adopting him as his son, a stratagem that skirts Italian inheritance law. Love, lust, beauty and desire, what better ingredients for a murder?
Unfortunately the plot and the murderer are instantly clear. That didn't bother me because I read Donna Leon for the thoughtful writing and her images of Venice. If you like suspense you won't be pleased with this one.
I received a review copy of "Unto Us a Son Is Given" by Donna Leon (Grove Atlantic) through NetGalley.com.
This is a mellow intelligent story set in present day Venice, Italy. Of course Venice has a charm all of its own and the unique atmosphere is effectively captured in this book. A map of Venice would be helpful to follow the action as the characters go about their daily activity.
The book opens with an interesting human interest story. Gonzalo is a wealthy elderly gay man who risks alienating his longtime friends by legally adopting a man 40 years his junior. This will result in the man's considerable fortune passing to the young man virtually intact, free of mandatory bequests to his siblings from whom he's been estranged since his youth, except for a sister. They are strict Catholics and homophobic.
Commissario Guido Brunetti of the state police is asked by his father-in-law, Gonzalo's best friend since boarding school days, as a favour intervene and dissuade him from following through with the adoption. Once done, the adoption would irrevocable should the relationship not work out as planned. The old man dies suddenly of natural causes and it turns out that he adopted the man despite all the protestations.
The new son is portrayed as a grasping and shallow fortune-hunter. Readers do not get to know him as he plays little direct role in the story. Most of what is known is learned third hand through informed observers.
Following Gonzalo's sudden death, another long time friend arrives in Venice to arrange for a memorial service, but she is murdered the day she arrives. This presents Brunetti with a murder to solve, which he does, in his usual elegant fashion.
It's an enjoyable story. Its strength is Brunetti and his world: Venice, his family and friends At police headquarters, there's his boss the ambitious Vice-Questore Patta, who actually calls upon him for a favour, and the all-powerful Signorina Elettra Zorzi, Patta's secretary, Without her nothing would get done, her absence on vacation brings things to a halt at the police headquarters.
So goes the basic plot of Unto Us a Son Is Given, the latest installment in Donna Leon’s long-running series of Italian police procedurals. For devoted readers of these novels, the pleasure of each new story is that it allows for a deeper dive into the everyday lives of characters who have become beloved fictional fixtures. (Indeed, the main reason why this series has reached its twenty-eighth volume is that the main protagonists are so compelling.) In the case of this novel, that is an especially good thing because the mystery itself is really quite thin and not particularly engaging. Further, a second storyline involving Guido’s attempt to help his boss deal with some unruly neighbors is mercifully forgotten almost as soon as it is introduced.
What is left, though, is more than enough to make this a satisfying reading experience. I loved the sense of place that the author was able to create throughout the novel. She has a great talent for making it feel as if we are walking the streets, dining in the restaurants, or moving through the canals of one of the world’s truly remarkable cities. I also enjoyed the frequent glimpses into the hearts and minds of Brunetti and his wife Paola, who is an independent and fully developed character in her own right. This is a novel in which relationships, rather than the whodunit aspects, are placed front and center and I think that was a good decision.
Donna Leon’s 28th case for Commissario Guido Brunetti starts in a quite unique way since this time, no murder has been committed and Brunetti is not running after some evil criminal. It is a very personal story that reveals a lot about Venice’s society, especially the rich and noble and their very special views on the world. The actual murder case only appears after about two thirds of the novel which surprisingly does not reduce any suspense in it.
As the other novels before, the Guido Brunetti series lives on the special atmosphere of the Italian water city. Again, we get a glance behind the doors of the nobilità and how they resolve their cases. Brunetti’s has to do a lot of actually illegal work this time which does not seem to bother anybody too much. On the other hand, this is a very emotional and human story, it is the characters’ weaknesses, their longing for finding love and being loved that drives the story. It is much less about solving a crime than about revealing human nature and the core things of life. For me, definitely so far the strongest of Donna Leon’s novels since it goes far beyond just solving a murder case.
Another matter is one that Guido’s boss, Vice-Questore Patta, wants cleared up. Patta’s downstairs neighbor has an obnoxious eight-year old son who is extremely rude to Signora Patta, going so far as to call her despicable names, kick her groceries down the stairs, and even bang his schoolbag into her. Can Guido enlist the help of the brilliant Signorina Elletra Zorzi, an incomparable computer genius and formidable researcher, to find out more about the boy and his parents? The father, who is well-connected, refutes Signora Patta’s claims that his child is a menace and must be disciplined.
As fans of this series undoubtedly know, Brunetti is not a workaholic. He often sleeps late; eats delicious lunches and dinners prepared by his devoted wife, Paola; relies on Signorina Elletra to do most of his digging (she is arguably one of the most capable detectives in the book); and spends much of his leisure time reading and chatting with Paola. Guido is easygoing and an intellectual who relishes the ancient Greek and Roman classics. He is also compassionate, highly educated, a student of human nature, and savvy in his dealings with witnesses and suspects. Moreover, he usually manages to sidestep the machinations of his inept and duplicitous superiors.
This is a deliberately-paced novel in which the author demonstrates the consequences of greed, lust, anger, and selfishness. Another of Leon’s themes is the contrast between close-knit and loving relationships and those that are destructive and abusive. There are a few twists along the way, but the thin plot generates little suspense, and the conclusion is unsurprising. As always, Leon vividly describes the sights and sounds of Venice, alludes to the city’s social mores, and reminds us of the vast gulf between the affluent citizenry and those who barely get by. “Unto Us the Son is Given” is a light snack that is sometimes tasty, but ultimately leaves us wishing for more substantial fare.
A Donna Leon novel hardly starts with murder and mayhem on page one,and it is not different here. And sometimes this slowly building up of both the story and the tension works and sometimes it doesn't and it is not to everyone's liking (this is by the way the 28th in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series,quite a feat...),but here it all comes together perfectly. It captures and keeps the attention and the curiosity of the reader well. The characters are well developed and it feels very (Venetian) Italian(food,way of life...)
And then there is Venice,not exactly heaven on earth and not exactly inhabited by angels ,but still fascinating and intriguing enough to play a discreet leading role in this series. Yes,both Brunetti and Venice are back on track...
A brilliant, yet understated performance by Guido Brunetti, offset by his reading of The Trojan Women which seem to act as a reflective prompt for Guido all the way through.
Along the way we are treated to an insight into Venetian culture and practices. I love it!
Paolo's godfather, Gonzalo RodrÃguez de Tejada, and a longtime family friend wants to adopt a younger man as his son. His friends, including Guido's father-in-law Count Orazio Falier, are shocked and try to dissuade him. For the younger man would inherit all.
Then Gonzalo fall and dies in the street, and a close friend from Gonzalo's days in Chile comes to Venice, along with a former lover of Gonzalo's to hold a memorial dinner. Unfortunately she is strangled in her hotel room.
All of Brunetti's instincts come to the fore. He is on high alert. Yet the way forward seemingly comes to a full stop. The past haunts the future, but how?
The delight is in Bruenetti's, instinctive and intelligent sleuthing, his pleasant ways with his co-workers and his accurate reading of situations and people.
A thoughtful crime mystery set in one of the world's great cities.
A NetGalley ARC
But this one left me adrift wanting more. The story opens with Brunetti being tasked by his father-in-law to do some digging into his dear friend’s recent questionable behavior. Brunetti wants no part of it but without his research and interference there is no story. What seemed like a very long wind-up delivered a very short punch and even shorter ending. My best description is the story lacked depth and felt unfinished. Three and a half stars and looking forward to the next installment.
Thank you NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for a copy