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THE JEWELS OF PARADISE
by Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, October 2012
256 pages
25.00 GBP
ISBN: 0802120644


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Caterina Pelligrini is a musicologist working in England at the start of this fine stand-alone novel by Donna Leon. She is unhappy there and eager to return to Venice, her home. This desire leads her to accept a job that from the outset sounds a bit strange and becomes even stranger as she delves into mysteries both modern and ancient.

She is being hired as an uninvolved outside party to solve a dispute between two cousins. A pair of old trunks have surfaced, belonging to a minor Baroque composer. Each cousin believes that he is the intended heir, and Caterina must carefully read the letters and other written contents of the trunks to determine what the composerís wishes may have been.

Distrust is heavy in the air as she is interviewed by the two cousins and by their lawyer. They do not even want to divulge the name of the composer at first, but Caterina is able to figure out who it is by the dates and what little information they do supply. They have a long list of requirements and are reluctant to pay for anything above the absolute minimum of what she might need. The lawyer supplies her with a decommissioned computer from his firm because the cousins are too cheap to provide her with one. She does not question this donation, but like so much else, his generosity turns out to be not what it seems.

Caterina is happy to be accepted for the position, only learning later that no one else applied. She is to work in an odd building that houses a music foundation. Some initial research on her part reveals that one of the cousins is a usurer and the other a tax evader. The director of the foundation reveals to Caterina that there is a rumor of a treasure, and that is what has the cousins so eager to claim possession.

As she is a trained researcher, Caterina handles the papers in a careful and orderly manner. As she goes through the pages, she becomes more and more curious about the background of some of the letters she is reading. She begins to spend time in the library and slowly puts together a number of theories about who the composer was and what his life might have been like. She enlists the help of her sister Cristina, a nun living in Germany, who is also a highly skilled researcher. The composer seems to have abandoned his earlier musical career to become a high church official based in Germany, and Cristina helps her understand what this means.

Tension builds as the days go by. Caterinaís love life seems to be improving as she goes out to dinner with the lawyer, yet she feels something is not right about him. A burglary occurs but nothing is taken. She is accosted on the street by a man who follows her and stares in a threatening manner. What is she uncovering that someone does not want revealed?

The meaning of the title is revealed at the end of this novel. Caterina has been told that her employment will be over sooner than she expected, but she solves the mystery anyway and everyone - happily, for this reader -gets what they deserve.

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, June 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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