Quietly in Their Sleep, by Donna Leon

November 16, 2007 at 2:30 am (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

quietly.jpg donnaleon.jpg In Quietly in Their Sleep* (1998), Donna Leon casts a gimlet eye on Venice’s Catholic hierarchy and doesn’t much like what she sees. Maria Testa, formerly Suor’Immacolata of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, turns up unexpectedly in Commissario Guido Brunetti’s office with concerns about the nursing home, or casa di cura, in which she was recently employed. She believes that the recent deaths of several residents were not “natural;” she further suspects that the priests and nuns who administer the facility have been manipulating residents into leaving them large sums in their respective wills.

Brunetti doesn’t realize it right away, but he knows Maria Testa – or rather knew her, as Suor’Immacolata. She had formerly worked in the casa di cura where his mother has resided for some time. A year ago, she had been transferred to another casa, the San Leonardo. By the time she appears in Brunetti’s office, she has not only left the San Leonardo, she has left the Sisters altogether.

Why has Maria Testa taken this drastic step? Because she was unable to get anyone within the administration to act on her suspicions regarding the elderly residents of the San Leonardo. She feels that this juncture, her only recourse is to request the assistance of the police from the vantage point of her new secular identity.

Brunetti has a deep regard for this young woman. She had been exceptionally kind to his mother, and he recalls vividly “…the depths of charity that had radiated from the nun’s eyes as she spoke….” With the help of the able and intelligent Inspettore Vianello, Brunetti sets about interviewing the various family members of recently deceased residents of the casa di cura, as well as some of the staff. He meets some interesting, largely unpleasant people. But he can find no evidence that a crime has been committed. He lets the investigation slide onto the back burner. Then something happens involving Maria Testa that changes everything.

The usual pleasures of this series are found in this novel. Chief among them is the depiction of Brunetti’s family: his wife Paola and two children Raffi and Chiara. This is a fortunate family that dwells, for the most part, in harmony. Their devotion and loyalty to one another is unfeigned. In addition to a still powerful sexual attraction, Paola and Guido Brunetti share a genuine marriage of true minds. Eavesdropping on their conversations is a real delight! I am awed by Donna Leon’s seemingly effortless success in describing a marriage that is both happy and fascinating.

Paola is a ferocious intellectual and – well, at times she’s just plain ferocious! But she always there to support her husband, especially when the going gets dangerous. And it does just that in Quietly in Their Sleep.

Of course, Venice in all its shimmering glory is present almost as another character, and an essential one. The city’s unique topography and illustrious history inform the lives and personalities of those who live and work there.

It’s interesting to read the Amazon customer reviews of this novel. While some readers liked it, others most emphatically did not. Those in the latter group primarily objected to what one reviewer called “anti-Catholic blather.” I have to say that as the narrative proceeded, Leon’s unremittingly negative depiction of the Catholic Church did begin to take on the characteristics of a screed. These characteristics could, and did, become annoying at times. Brunetti’s gracious recollection concerning Suor’Immacolata/Maria Testa, quoted above, was the only positive sentiment expressed concerning the church and its adherents. And while Brunetti’s personal philosophy has no place for any kind of organized religion, Paola is downright militant in her dislike, not to mention distrust, of Catholic officialdom.

Having said this, I have to admit that I did, for the most part, manage to enjoy this novel, primarily because I love Venice and I love spending time with the Brunetti family. I should also add that I was moved by Brunetti’s feelings of guilt and sadness concerning his elderly mother; Leon describes those feelings with great empathy and sensitivity. I don’t think Quietly in Their Sleep is Leon at her absolute best, and it’s certainly not in a league with Suffer the Little Children, which came out earlier this year. The title I would recommend to a reader just starting this series is the first Brunetti novel, Death at La Fenice. la-fenice.jpg You may be pleasantly surprised by the relatively lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek writing as well as the vivid description of the music scene in Venice.This title remains one of my all time favorite international mysteries.

*Quietly in Their Sleep has also been published as The Death of Faith.

1 Comment

  1. www.proveninsomniacure.info » Quietly in Their Sleep, by Donna Leon said,

    […] Roberta Rood added an interesting post today on Quietly in Their Sleep, by Donna Leon.Here’s a small reading:In Quietly in Their Sleep*, Donna Leon casts a gimlet eye on Venice’s Catholic hierarchy and doesn’t much like what she sees. Maria Testa, formerly Suor’Immacolata of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, turns up unexpectedly in Commissario … […]

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