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by Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, March 2019
320 pages
ISBN: 0802129110

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Once more we are treated to a well-crafted novel, Venetian both in a timeless rhythm, yet modern in its concerns with one's teenagers and what they are doing, with the inevitable creeping of bureaucracy. As always, Leon sounds a bass note beneath the treble of murder and mayhem. This time, the bass note is about filial love

Dramatis personae: Guido Brunetti, Commissario di Policia, whose thoughts in this novel circle around familial love, especially the love between fathers and sons; his Paola, Professoressa di Letteratura, witty, learned, and loving; il Conte Orazio Falier, Brunetti's father-in-law whom, Brunetti realizes, he loves and feels a tender care for; Alberta Gutiérrez de Vedia, Chilean, whose father was a member of Salvador Allende's cabinet, and who must escape Chile in a hurry to preserve her life; Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada, Spaniard, who, having moved to Chile to make his fortune in beef, helps Alberta escape; il Marchese di Torrebardo, a handsome young man with whom Gonzalo is infatuated, and whom Gonzalo has resolved to adopt, cutting his own blood kin out of his fortune; Rudy Adler, Gonzalo's former lover who fell in love with another; Signorina Elettra Zorzi, canny member of the Policia.

Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada, an old friend of Conte Falier, Brunetti's father-in-law, has inexplicably begun the process of adopting a handsome young man, which, by Italian law, would cut any family members out of his, Gonzalo's, fortune. The Count asks his son-in-law to look into the adoption, very unofficially. Brunetti's conversation with his father-in-law circles round its subject, reluctant to touch its heart, which is such a raw thing, love. During their long conversation, Brunetti is taken back to his courtship of the Count's daughter, Paola, and Brunetti's fear that he, a man of a lower social class, would certainly be rejected as a suitor. Now, years later, Brunetti realizes that his father-in-law has aged, and that he feels a deep tenderness for the older man, a feeling which must also be called by the name of love. In the opening chapters, Leon masterfully and subtly sets into motion the themes of her latest novel: what is love, and what divides it from other kinds of desire? What walls of class and age divide those who would love? How are these walls breached? How does the love of one's child change over time so that that child may be let go into the world? Why does love hold some families together and break others apart?

Unto Us a Son Is Given, quoting Handel and referring to Jesus, calls to mind how the parent-child bond, forged as it is in the warmth of love, is invested with a kind of holiness, a strength that seems beyond the quotidian round. Yet something seems amiss with the relation between Gonzalo and the young man, il Marchese di Torrebardo. The intense sexual attraction of the elder man for the younger subverts the nature of the father-son tie; and it may be that the Marchese's love of the Good Life may subvert the same bond. Between Handel's composition and the facts that Brunetti uncovers concerning Gonzalo's infatuation lies an ironic commentary about love and love. The commentary is all the richer as we follow the plot of the classical work that Brunetti is reading, The Trojan Women. After the conquest of Troy, Odysseus and his men put the Trojan men to the sword and, trapping the Trojan women between themselves and the sea, choose from the women those whom they will rape, those whom they will enslave as spinstresses.

When Gonzalo suddenly drops dead, his old friends appear at the funeral, including an elderly Englishwoman who carries herself with nobility. Brunetti meets her, has a taste of her independence and her verve, and then she is murdered. In her death lie answers to many questions that Brunetti and Gonzalo's friends have about the dead man's sudden infatuation.

§ Cathy Downs is Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where she teaches American literature and remains a fan of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, March 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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