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by Donna Leon
Heinemann, April 2014
237 pages
17.99 GBP
ISBN: 0434023027

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

For more than two decades American crime writer Donna Leon has been entertaining readers with her bestselling series based on the exploits of Venice's Commissario of Police Guido Brunetti, who, like Oxford's fabled Inspector Morse, seems to have a virtual monopoly on solving crime in his region. Her latest effort marks the 23rd entry in her highly acclaimed and popular series.

The Biblioteca Merula is one of Italy's national treasures. A respository for rare and valuable books comprising much of Venice's history, it houses much of Italy's cultural patrimony. But today it is the setting for a librarian's worst nightmare: over a period of weeks the Biblioteca has lost pages of illustrations from more than a hundred irreplaceable antiquarian books, and a hasty search reveals that entire books have gone missing as well. It's not simply a matter of the dollar value of the works; they are irreplaceable objects of the nation's heritage. Making matters worse, some of the books in question had been donated by a wealthy Venetian patron, the Contessa Morosini-Albani, from her private collection. If she learns that they're missing she might very well withdraw her generous financial support for the library, with disastrous consequences.

Commissario Guido Brunetti is assigned the case, and soon finds himself immersed in an unfamiliar world populated by scholars, bibliophiles, collectors, and unscrupulous thieves. Before long inquiries unearth some disturbing revelations about some of the library's recent users: the credentials of an academic researcher from America are found to be bogus, and a local resident, a reclusive ex-priest who also frequented the collection, has gone missing.

As in previous outings it seems to be Brunetti's fate that he must suffer the meddling of his less-than-helpful superior officer, the officious Vice-Questore Patta, who complicates the investigation with his own half-baked theories. But aided by his assistant, Ispettore Vianello, and Signorina Elettra, Patta's secretary, Bruno navigates his way through the arcane world of antiquarian book collectors, dealers, auction houses and and thieves who steal to order. All in all, it's a case that challenges even Brunetti's formidable skills.

Three decades of living in Venice has given Donna Leon an appreciation for the subtleties of daily life there, as well as for the even more nuanced relations between the various social strata that make up Venetian society. She uses this knowledge to good effect, producing a richly atmospheric narrative of a unique and captivating world, every bit as compelling for its own sake as for its ability to advance the plot. BY ITS COVER is a tale to be savoured, a little gem of literate escape with an intriguing puzzle at its core that will provide readers with hours of pleasure.

Since 2005 Jim Napier's reviews and interviews have appeared in several Canadian newspapers and on various crime fiction and literary websites, including his own award-winning site, Deadly Diversions. He can be reached at jnapier@deadlydiversions.com

Reviewed by Jim Napier, June 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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