"While we are reading, we are all Don Quixote." ~ Mason Cooley

Friday, March 28, 2014

Beastly Things ~ by Donna Leon

If you've read any of my other postings, you know I enjoy mysteries.  Not just any mysteries, however. For the most part, I prefer those written by a handful of European and Canadian authors. And one of  my  favorites is Donna Leon.

I recently was pleased to read a review of her work in which Leon is described as a literary crime novelist.  The label elevates her beyond the stereotypical image of a mystery writer.  And rightly so -no mere whodunits here, no simple formulaic plots, or two-dimensional characters. No red herrings. Leon's protagonist, Guido Brunetti, is a compassionate, ethical, and intelligent man whose complex personality has been developed over this series that now numbers 20 novels.  Developed not only in Leon's rich and layered descriptions of his thinking and behavior over time, but through his relationships with the cast of multi-dimensional supporting characters that populate the series.

The label is also appropriate because Leon is a talented and skillful writer.  Her metaphors are striking, her sense of humor delightful, her descriptions of Venice, whether of the city itself, its history, culture, or politics, intriguing.  Were the subject not crime, she most certainly would be found on fiction shelves, not mystery.

But what I most appreciate about Leon is her expectation that her readers are curious, intelligent and open to new information and attitudes. Both Guido and his wife, Paola, are inveterate readers - Guido, an aficionado of classic Greek and Roman historians and Paola, a professor of English literature who loves Henry James. 

Additionally, each of the novels explores a social and/or environmental issue - issues that impact not only Italy,  but, it could be argued, other nations as well- pollution, illegal immigration, racism, child prostitution, political corruption, etc., etc. In Beastly Things the issue is graft, corruption, and unhealthy practices in a slaughterhouse...and the consequences.  Although Leon has definite opinions, she manages to present them in the context of the story line.  Heads up - the description of the slaughterhouse practices may be enough to make a vegetarian of any reader!

If you have read Leon in the past, but haven't kept up, you can jump in here.  If you have never read her,  I recommend you start at the beginning of the series with Death at La Fenice and get a proper introduction to Guido Brunetti,  his family and colleagues, and the remarkable city of Venice.

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