By Its Cover by Donna Leon

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By Its Cover by Donna Leon

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: It's the 23rd book in the series but the story is still remarkably fresh and engaging. It's a good, thought-provoking read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Arrow
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099591283

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A prestigious library in the heart of Venice discovered that pages had been cut from many of its most valuable books and that several others were missing. This would normally have been investigated by a specialist department in Rome, but Commissario Guido Brunetti agreed to look into the thefts - partly for personal reasons and partly because it was the simplest way to move the problem forward. The staff at the library were certain that an American researcher was responsible, but there were quite a few factors which didn't quite add up for Brunetti and he decided to look at some of the other regular attenders at the library.

Of course the implications reach far beyond the theft and desecration of books, serious as that is. Many of these books were centuries old and even if the missing pages were recovered the books would never be the same again. Books are stolen - or pages removed - to order and Brunetti had to immerse himself in their murky world and investigate a murder at the same time. There are some strange factors at work too: one of the regulars at the library was Franchini, an ex-priest who was passionate about reading early Christian literature. Would he have allowed the researcher to do as he appeared to have done without protest? Or was he someone who might be a good man, but didn't want to bring trouble on himself?

Then there's the politics behind the donor of many of the books. Contessa Morosini-Albani might be titled, but for various reasons she's not out of the top drawer of Venetian society and her generous donations to the library are all part of her aim to be accepted. The library were worried about how she would react to their loss of books which had been in the Morosini-Albani family for generations.

The star of the book is, of course, Venice itself. If you know the city at all you'll walk the streets and go along and across the canals with Brunetti. And it's not just the geography and the architecture which Donna Leon has to perfection - it's the social mores and the way that the city functions - and how the rich are mercilessly divided from the poor. We meet the regular cast of characters - Brunetti's aristocratic wife Paola, and Inspettore Vianello and Signorina Elettra from the work side of his life.

By the twenty-third book in a series you can almost forgive an author for getting a little tired of her character and the plots, but that hasn't happened here. Brunetti carries the plots rather than dominates them - I don't for instance have any mental image of the man - and this allows Leon a lot more freedom in her writing. When you get to this stage in a series it's quite a compliment to say that you're looking forward to the next book - and I am. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Inspector Montalbano seems to be standing up well as time passes, too.

Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti Novels in Chronological Order

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