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Earthly Remains: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

Review

Earthly Remains: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

It’s difficult to describe the work of Donna Leon other than in superlatives. Her novels featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti of Venice, Italy, is an annual blessing, a fine series --- one of the finest (see what I mean) in the mystery (or any) genre. It contains a puzzle at the core but at its heart is driven by Brunetti and a cast consisting of his family and co-workers, who are instantly memorable and unforgettable from book to book. Leon paints each story --- each sentence, in fact --- with a fine and careful brush; one never gets the sense of a novel being dashed off or hurried. Still, it is a pleasant surprise to find that EARTHLY REMAINS, the 26th installment of this quietly beloved series, is the best of a wonderful lot.

"[N]early a third of EARTHLY REMAINS passes without a particular mystery arising. Leon’s character development and scene-setting are so strong and interesting that the story just moves right along without a bump or hitch."

Brunetti is taking a brief and unplanned vacation away from his job and, interestingly enough, away from his family. The short-term sabbatical is occasioned by an incident at work that finds Brunetti interceding on behalf of his junior officer during an interrogation, preventing the young man from doing something reactive and rash. One thing leads to another, and a bit of medical leave is recommended for Brunetti. When he confesses to his wife, Paola, that he is feeling burned out from his job, she recommends that he spend some time alone at her family’s villa on Sant’Erasmo, one of the islands that surrounds Venice.

Upon arrival, Brunetti is delighted to eventually learn that the caretaker of the property is Davide Casati, a longtime friend of his late father. The two men strike up a friendship of their own over their mutual interest in rowing; Brunetti quickly falls into a routine of boating around the many inlets with Casati and reading at night.

I have to stop here for just a moment and note that nearly a third of EARTHLY REMAINS passes without a particular mystery arising. Leon’s character development and scene-setting are so strong and interesting that the story just moves right along without a bump or hitch. A mystery does arise, though, when Casati goes missing without explanation. Brunetti, leave notwithstanding, puts his investigator’s hat back on in order to determine the what, why and wherefore behind his new friend’s disappearance and ultimate fate. He does so by following a bit of innuendo as well as a trail that leads into the past. This, in turn, reveals a secret shared among three men about a tragedy, the effect of which ripples forward into the present, resulting in guilt and subterfuge. Brunetti does get his answers, but the ending is hardly tied up neatly or happily. It’s yet another element that makes this book, and the series overall, so close to the real world.

Serious readers who are always looking for a new author or title are probably already familiar with Leon and Brunetti. There are few reading joys that equal cracking the binding of a new Leon novel and experiencing another meeting with Brunetti, his deep intellect and occasional wry humor, delivered in a quick line or two of observation as a quiet aside. If you have not experienced this world, so exotic and yet so familiar, you can pick up literally any volume in the series and begin a comfortable entry into Brunetti’s Venice. EARTHLY REMAINS, however, would be a superlative place to start.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 7, 2017

Earthly Remains: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery
by Donna Leon

  • Publication Date: April 4, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802126472
  • ISBN-13: 9780802126474