‘…gossip and insinuation, those Venetian twins of truth.” – Trace Elements by Donna Leon

August 22, 2020 at 6:53 pm (Book review, books, Italy, Mystery fiction)

  I enjoyed the latest novel by Donna Leon, as I knew I would. In this one, the police are dealing with  some chronic pickpockets; they are caught, punished, and then go on plying their trade as before. A more serious case involves a dying woman, Benedetta Toso, whose husband was recently killed in a motorcycle accident. She has expressed an urgent need to talk to the police about what happened to her husband.

Commissario Guido Brunetti and his colleague Commissario Claudia Griffoni go to the hospice where Signora Toso is currently being cared for, in order to hear what she has to say. But she is only able to gasp out a few words before she too is overtaken by death.

Being present at the passing of the Signora is emotionally devastating for both Brunetti and Griffoni. It strengthens their resolve to work jointly to get to the bottom of the case.

Once again, the city of Venice gleams in the prose of Donna Leon. I would have liked to spend more time with Brunetti’s family: his children, Raffi and Chiara, who are fast leaving childhood  behind, and his wife, the fiery and uncompromising Paola, a professor of English who has a highly laudable specialty in the novels of Henry James.

Nevertheless, a most enjoyable read. Leon’s writing is a joy, filled as it is with classical allusions:

Like Nausicaa listening at her father’s court to Ulysses’ account of his travels, Signorina Elettra sat enthralled.

Last year, Donna Leon was interviewed in the New York Times Book Review’s feature ‘By the Book.’ When asked how she first got hooked on crime fiction, she said this:

Ross Macdonald impressed me for the quality and beauty of his writing. I still, reading through them, come upon passages, especially his descriptions of characters, that I wish I had the courage to steal. He’s also a master at the well-honed plot that takes Lew Archer, and thus the reader, back a generation to find the source of the crime. He’s compassionate, apparently well read, and decent.

I was, of course, no end pleased by this. It’s most gratifying when the writers you esteem praise one another.

Donna Leon is 78 years old or thereabouts; she now divides her time between Venice and Switzerland. I wish her well, and of course I look forward to more novels featuring the investigations of Commissario Guido Brunetti.

Donna Leon



  1. Melanie Carlson Peterson said,

    Last September a week before the floods, we were in Venice to celebrate our 29th anniversary, which was our “golden” anniversary 29 years on the 29. I have read all of Donna’s books over and over and brought with me Brunetti’s guide to Venice. Outside our window was the cover shot of the book! There was construction around it but my husband who never read one convinced them to move all their equipment and tape for 10 minutes for my photo op. He then guided me to their apartment and the bakery. I don’t think I ever loved him more.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Wonderful! Thanks for sharing that special experience.

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