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EARTHLY REMAINS
by Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2017
304 pages
$27.00
ISBN: 0802126472


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

We are used to quirky endings, but less so quirky beginnings. When Commissario Guido Brunetti is forced to feign a heart attack in order to prevent his outraged young assistant, officer Pucetti, from attacking an offensive but influential suspect during an interview, things quickly get out of hand. To play his hand out Brunetti is forced to go to the hospital, where the attending dottoressa says there's no physical evidence of a medical crisis. Looking for a graceful way out, Brunetti cites the stress of his job. She accepts that, but at the cost of recommending he take several weeks' leave away from his place of work.

Brunetti's astute wife, Paola, smells a rat, but agrees with the doctor's prescription. She arranges for Brunetti to spend some time on the tip of Sant'Erasmo, one of the many islands that make up Venice. She has a relative with a vacation villa there, looked after by a man and his daughter.

Brunetti travels to Sant'Erasmo and is delighted to learn that the caretaker, David Casati, is the son of a very good friend with whom he used to row in the lagoon many years ago. Brunetti and the man quickly become friends themselves, and spend their days together on the waters. For Brunetti it is a chance to reconnect with nature, to reminisce about times spent with his old friend, and to forge a new friendship.

But idyllic as Brunetti's time there promises to be, it is marred by events beyond his control. Casati is something of a naturalist, and he has discovered that the bees are dying. Seemingly a small matter perhaps, but important to him. The cause is unclear, and Casati continues to investigate, until one day he disappears. Thus Brunetti is drawn into the murky waters of yet another case; before it is over someone will die, and others will have suffered, in a story that reaches back decades.

In EARTHLY REMAINS Donna Leon has delivered yet another fine tale featuring one of the most original and enduring characters in crime fiction. We are treated to her nuanced depictions of her mercurial yet quietly dogged protagonist, immersed in a richly textured story line that will hold readers firmly but gently in her grasp. The ending contributes to a wonderful story that manages to be evocative and philosophical at the same time. Quite possibly Leon's best work to date, EARTHLY REMAINS is a gem.

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, July 2017

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