four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
By: 
Donna Leon
user_rating: 
0

A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

A-About FaceFormer English professor Donna Leon again shines the spotlight on her beloved adopted city of Venice in this 18th installment of her award-winning mystery series.

The Story: Commissario Guido Brunetti’s professional and personal lives collide when Maggiori Guarini of the carabinieri—the Italian military police—asks him to look into the murder of a truck driver possibly tied to the Mafia and the illegal dumping of toxic waste. Meanwhile, Brunetti’s father-in-law, the wealthy and powerful Conte Falier, asks him to investigate a potential business partner who may have ties of his own to the Mafia. The happily married Brunetti quickly becomes more interested in the businessman’s much younger wife, a former beauty horribly disfigured by a botched face-lift. When Guarini’s body is discovered in a deserted industrial storage facility, Brunetti’s informal inquiries turn deadly.
Atlantic. 272 pages. $24. ISBN: 0802118968

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"In About Face she ratchets up the tension further, expanding on both the intimate and social complexities that make her books so rich. As a result, the discoveries feel natural, the revelations inevitable." Clea Simon

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"She combines the minutiae of daily life in Venice with pitch-perfect descriptions of police procedure, the now-familiar rhythms of Brunetti’s home life with a ferocious knowledge of literature, delivered—how else?—with a sure, yet light, touch. … The details of home-cooked meals and family arguments, alongside a never-ending flow of crime, add a depth to Leon’s stories and are what makes her characters so believable and, in turn, her books so readable." Rebecca Armstrong

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Brunetti, one of crime fiction’s most beloved police inspectors, knows he can never defeat Italian corruption, but he will never give up trying. Leon balances the unseemly aspects of his job with the satisfactions of his comfortable domestic life." Oline H. Cogdill

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It would be easy to punch holes in a contrived subplot, thick with symbolism, about a beautiful young woman whose face was ruined by cosmetic surgery. But who would want to, when Leon is being so generous with the humanizing details that make this series special?" Marilyn Stasio

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3 of 5 Stars
"As a writer, Leon has mastered an engaging way with the Venetian culture, always the strongest element in her books. It’s the preachy side of her—an understandable reaction to the appalling conditions in Italy—that needs to be mastered as well." Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

In this latest installment, Leon returns to Brunetti’s charming, if problematic, domestic life—rather neglected in recent installments—which contrasts vividly with the violent crimes Brunetti must solve, a move applauded by critics who consider the genial, sophisticated Brunetti one of crime fiction’s most engaging detectives. Though Leon’s loving descriptions of life in contemporary Venice can at times displace the plot, she nevertheless heaps on the suspense in this hard-edged thriller. The New York Times Book Review complained of a clichéd story line, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette bemoaned Leon’s shrill, preachy tone, but most critics considered About Face an enjoyable romp through modern Venice and a worthy addition to this well-regarded series.

First in the Series

Death at La Fenice (1992): When infamous German maestro Helmut Wellauer is found dead of cyanide poisoning after the second act of La Traviata, Commissario Guido Brunetti must unearth secrets buried since World War II in order to catch the killer.