About Face

by Donna Leon

Hardcover, 2009

Call number





Atlantic Monthly Press (2009), 272 pages


A socialite asks Guido Brunetti to investigate a murder that happened in the underworld surrounding southern Italy's garbage dumping grounds.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Joycepa
Ever since the debacle of Through A Glass Darkly, I’ve opened a new Donna Leon/Commisario Brunetti book with trepidation. The next two, Suffer The Little Children and The Girl of His Dreams, were pleasant surprises; while not the strongest (it’s hard to live up to Aqua Alta), they were very
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good and promised a return to Leon’s old form.

Unfortunately, this latest in the series is mediocre at best. It’s mostly filler; at least half of the book is irrelevant to the story. Instead, what we get is not so much a plot (which is lackluster) but details of Brunetti’s everyday life up to and including how he folds his newspaper to put it in his pocket. It’s as if Brunetti himself is the focus of the book rather than any plot.

And this really doesn’t work, big time. There are several passages that simply describe Bruntetti getting from one place to another. One concerns his walk through the snow. The prose is labored, as Leon tries to invoke a kind of mood in Bruntetti that simply doesn’t ring true. Another scene has Bruneti on a vaporetto, traveling the Grand Canal to the Questura. In previous books, Leon has managed to endow such scenes with a scintillating brilliance that conveys Brunetti’s--and Leon’s--love for the city. In this book, it’s a recital of what Brunetti sees as the vaporetto makes its way to San Lorenzo. It’s as if Leon is well aware that now there’s a book out of Brunetti’s Venice, complete with 10 “tours” and photographs of different places that have appeared in the books. So now we have a pathetic, lifeless list that seems to say: note these places and read about them in the Brunetti tourist guide.

I won’t even bother about the plot, which involves a favorite theme of hers, environmental contamination through corruption and involvement of the Mafia (as we’re cognoscenti, we now learn to call it the Camorra). It’s a lackluster plot; there’s a nice action scene towards the end, but the denouement, which is an extended explanation, is weak and without conviction.

And to top it all off, the palazzo of Paula’s parents, the Count and Countess Falier, has been moved from Dorsoduro, where it’s been since the earliest books, below the Accademia bridge, to the district of San Marco! It’s marked on the map of Venice inside the covers, and is just more evidence of disinterest and indifferent editing, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m beginning to think Leon is written out in this series. About Face feels like a tired book in which Leon had very little invested; it seems more like a chore she had to do--more like an essay on What I Did On My Summer Vacation than any real commitment to the story.

There’s a thread on LibraryThing, Mystery Writers Who Have Lost It. In my opinion, Leon has become a candidate for the list.

Because the series used to be so superior, I’d started buying her books in hardback. That ends with this sad installment; from now on, I’ll wait until the paperback edition comes out and buy it used.

Not as bad as Through A Glass Darkly but avoid.
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LibraryThing member Queensowntalia
One of the best Commissario Brunetti mystery novels to date! Leon's latest Venice mystery holds plot twists a plenty. At one point, and regular readers of the series will know this is fairly rare, Brunetti even draws his gun. Many of the previous novels have emphasized his happy homelife. While
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that's still a factor here, this latest chapter is decidedly more work oriented, as Brunetti stuggles with a mystery that grows increasingly puzzling - and deadly - each day. There's a keen air of danger to this book that sets it apart from most of the previous Brunetti novels. And the reveal at the end, imho, leaves one with that slight twisty gut feeling that the best suspense novels deliver. (even if, as some might argue, the reasons for events falling as they do seem slightly suspect...)

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LibraryThing member lilithcat
I've stopped reading Leon for the plots (in this case, it's about garbage hauling, the Mafia, gambling and a society woman known as "la superliftata"). They are generally about corruption in Italian politics and business, and nothing is ever really "solved", because, of course, that corruption
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prevents a nice, tidy resolution.

However, I enjoy reading about La Serenissima, and Guido's family. We get more of his in-laws, the Conte and Contessa Falier, than usual, and, as always, they are more discerning than Brunetti has given them credit for.
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LibraryThing member MurderMysteryMayhem
Number 18 in the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series, About Face, will not disappoint fans of the overeducated, philosophical, pragmatic detective.

Once again Brunetti must work under the radar of his boss, the ineffective Patta, when the Carabiniere approach him for assistance in an illegal
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garbage hauling case that might be connected to the Camorra. Coincidentally Brunetti's father in law, Conte Falier, is considering investing in China, a deal that would partner him with Cataldo a man in the shipping and heavy equipment industry, and asks Guido to investigate. Brunetti is reluctant but curious about Cataldo's unusual wife and it is this curiosity that pulls him into a knot of hazardous waste, dark secrets, and murder.

Brunetti is left to untangle the red tape, dispel interdepartmental distrust, and to interpret what is not being said by all those involved. There are quite a few family meals, grappa, the occasional coffee and of course the backdrop of Venice to balance all the corruption and moral decay.

Readers who enjoy this series might like Michael Dibdin, Janwillem Van De Wetering, and Andrea Camilleri.
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LibraryThing member smik
An invitation to dinner to meet some friends of his mother-in-law sees Commissario Guido Brunetti agreeing to investigate the background of another guest at the dinner party.
Maurizio Cataldo is a prosperous Venetian businessman who wants Brunetti's aristocratic father-in-law, the Conte Falier, to
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invest in a business venture in China. At the dinner party Brunetti sits opposite Cataldo's wife, Franca Marinello, charming company, but a woman who looks as if her last plastic surgery went over the top.

On the following day Brunetti intends to enlist his boss's personal assistant Signorina Elettra in his search for information. Instead she tells him that Vice-Questore Patta has a visitor for him to meet.
Maggior Guarino from the Carabinieri in Marghera is investigating the takeover of legitimate transport businesses by illegal organisations. A deal he had been making with the owner of a trucking company turned sour when the owner was killed in a robbery. The Venice police had narrowly escaped being involved in the resultant investigation. Guarino has a suspect, a Venetian, but soon after he sends Brunetti a photo of the man, he is himself killed.

Brunetti has the sense of being dragged against his will into an investigation that is getting ever closer to home. The background to this novel is, as always, stories of Italian corruption and politics. In this case it begins with the garbage crisis in Naples, Italian involvement in international refuse and dangerous goods disposal. It has not only political but also economic and moral implications. Donna Leon is shameless about her ecological stance, her exploration of issues that affect not only daily life in Venice, in Italy, but that should be of international concern.

ABOUT FACE is #18 in Donna Leon's Brunetti series. As always, I am not sure whether to advise a new reader to start with this book, or whether to try to do a little "back reading". ABOUT FACE is not the best in the series (my rating 4.4), and I found the last 50 or so pages a bit too slow. On the other hand the series is so good, one of my favourites, that I have no hesitation in recommending that you try them. If you've ever been to Venice, then you'll know something of the magic of the city, and enjoy seeing it through Guido Brunetti's eyes. Brunetti's wife, English professor Paola, is a feisty woman, Guido's personal social conscience, more than willing to challenge his decisions. She does not let us down in ABOUT FACE.

When you read a series as it is published, book by book as I do with this one, then it is hard to decide how much of the continuing back stories the new reader will find too puzzling. What I love about them is the exploration of Brunetti family life, the other strongly drawn characters such as self-taught hacker Signorina Elettra, Brunetti's boss Vice-Questore Patta, and the issues drawn constantly out of Venetian life: the pollution of the lagoon, the rising waters, the challenge to the glass industry by cheap Chinese imports, the influx of refugees, the idea that Venice is just for tourists, corruption in the police force, the grist between the police and the Carabinieri, the rise of the Camorra: it is all there and more.

If you explore my blog further you will find other reviews and mini-reviews of Donna Leon novels. Last year I reviewed THE GIRL OF HIS DREAMS. Other things to tickle your fancy too, links to tours of Venice, and other books to explore.
A little news that I have come across: a new book is promised in 2010: admittedly non-fiction: AT TABLE WITH THE BRUNETTIS. And also in 2010 #19 in the Brunetti series: A QUESTION OF BELIEF.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series, set in Venice is one of my favorites. In this one, Brunetti must deal with corruption in the Carabinieri, his parents-in-law, a once gorgeous model with a seriously deformed face who quotes Cicero at dinner parties, toxic waste, garbage, and of course a
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murder. These stories never fail to delight me...and David Colacci's narration of the audio edition highlights his masterful ability to inflect just enough Italian into the English. A truly enjoyable 'read.'
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LibraryThing member CarltonC
Another fine crime novel from Ms Leon. Well written with detail about Venice, literary references and description of the family life of Commissario Brunetti to leaven the sordidness of the crime story.
LibraryThing member nicholp

As good as usual for Donna Leon with a more satisfactory ending than usual.
LibraryThing member ros.peters
I love reading Donna Leon, if only, to be back in Venice again. This story was very slow moving and not a lot really happened. My love is for the setting and the characters. I love hearing about the locations, the food eaten at cafes etc. as well as the undertones of Venetian and Italian society
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revealed by the author through the commentary of the characters. I think Paola is a saint, working all day and still coming home late to prepare gourmet meals! I can't get enough, so please write more Donna! Per favore!
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LibraryThing member khiemstra631
I tried this book but could not get into it enough to finish it. That is the first time this has happened with me and one of Leon's books. I will definitely try another one, however.
LibraryThing member cyderry
Commissario Brunetti is caught in two mysteries - one at the office when another officer is found dead (supposedly suicide) and a woman who fascinates Guido because she is not only beautiful with a unique aspect to her face due to plastic surgery but she reads the classics - Cicero and Ovid.

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interwoven story is a page-turner moving along to a satisfactory conclusion for all.
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LibraryThing member addunn3
A book-reading young woman with a scared face is at the center of murders. Good, intricate plot.
LibraryThing member sianpr
Another outing for Brunetti involving the murder of a police officer, the Comorra and the dumping of waste, also featuring a mysterious young woman whose had a very radical face lift. All eventually becomes clear.
LibraryThing member thornton37814
Although the book begins with a social outing at the in-laws in which Brunetti's seating across from a disfigured woman gives him an enjoyable evening discussing classic literature. A carabinieri officer's death brings Brunetti and a new lady officer in to investigate. By the time they arrive at
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the scene, a cover-up is already underway. Brunetti learns the death may be tied to another death which was in another jurisdiction. His father-in-law asks him to investigate a man who proposed a joint business deal in China. As usual, the mystery contains an environmental theme--toxic waste this time. I enjoyed listening to the book narrated by Colacci.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Commissario Brunetti doesn’t know what to think when a carabiniere asks for his assistance in an investigation of a truck driver’s murder. The carabiniere seems to be holding back information. Given the territorial rivalry between Venice’s questura and the carabinieri, could this be a setup?
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On the home front, in an unusual turn of circumstances, Brunetti’s father-in-law asks for his assistance in a background check of a potential business partner. Usually it’s Brunetti asking his father-in-law for information related to a murder case.

Once again Leon strikes a satisfying balance between Brunetti’s professional life and his home life. This book includes some wonderful scenes with Brunetti and his father-in-law, as well as scenes with Brunetti and his wife Paola. The character development across the series is paying off now. Readers would do well to start at the beginning and read the series in order.
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LibraryThing member ffortsa
One of the better Leons I've read, and very welcome. Of course, it's the usual battle between the corrupt government and the honest policeman, with some very interesting additions of Comorra activity the crisis of garbage, both toxic and putrefying, in Italy. The sense that Brunetti is getting even
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more disheartened is palpable.
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LibraryThing member jetangen4571
eco-awareness, murder, murder-investigation, class-consciousness, law-enforcement, departmental-rivalry, injustice, international-crime-and-mystery, interpersonal-problems, Venice, Italy, family, family-dynamics, friendship*****

It all began with dinner at Brunetti's in-laws. Then the trail of
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murder, deceit, and more began. A real morality play.
Voice actor David Colacci continues to add much to a good story.
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LibraryThing member themulhern
Just another Donna Leon. Like the rest, but with more deliberate, personal, killing than usual. The ravaged face is probably a metaphor for the ravaged earth.
LibraryThing member ChazziFrazz
Franca Marinello is a well-read woman who catches the attention of Commissario Guido Brunetti. She is seated across from him at dinner at the home of the Cont and Contessa Falier, his in-laws. Her appearance is well-known due to excessive plastic surgery. The story behind it isn’t.

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Marinello visits Brunetti at his office a few days later to ask a favour of investigating a certain matter. His investigating leads him to a suspicious death, illegal transport of garbage and a visit from a carabinieri from nearby Marghera. The carabinieri is investigating Mafia takeovers of local businesses in his area.

As Brunetti investigates, he feels there are connections between all these cases, but finding the common thread is difficult.

Leon’s books are still enjoyable reading as the story lines unfold. I also enjoy scenes of life in the Brunetti household, as they give a more rounded image of Brunetti and his world.
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