Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Golden Egg by Donna Leon

First Sentence: It was a peaceful night at the Brunetti home, and dinner progressed in harmony

Comm. Guido Brunetti is asked by his boss to look into a minor violation possibly being committed by his future daughter-in-law. But it is Brunetti’s wife’s request that has more significance. The handicapped man at their dry cleaner has died of an apparent suicide and she feels it’s sad that no one knew anything about him. As Brunetti begins to investigate, he finds the man has no recorded history of being alive and the mother refuses to speak to the police but claims his papers were stolen. Who really was this man, and who might have wanted him dead.

Leon has a way of describing things so you clearly see them and so you feel the emotions of the characters. It’s lovely when an author doesn’t assume the reader has been following the series from the beginning. Leon starts off with an excellent introduction to Brunetti and his family.

The characters are fully developed and what truly bring the books to life. How refreshing to have a protagonist who works well with his colleagues and empathetic to those around him. He understands the idiosyncrasies of Italian law and politics…"Upstairs, Brunetti opened the online pages of Il Fatto Quotidiano, a newspaper which often delighted him by its manifest distrust of every political party, every politician, and every religious leader.", yet does his best to do his job, often with the help of Signorina Elettra, "...a buccaneer utterly without respect for rules or regulations." He also has a close, loving and intelligent family who love to eat good food, the descriptions of which are mouth-watering.

Leon not only writes dialogue with subtle humor, but she asks philosophical questions that make you think. She is an intelligent writer who uses thoughts well…”Here he was again, assuming that what he thought was what other people must surely think; that his judgments must have universal validity.” She does, occasionally, send the reader searching out a dictionary. Her simple observations often catch you off guard…"Poor people had grandparents; the rich had ancestors." Her observation on how children learn is fascinating.

“The Golden Egg” is a police procedural, but it is also a commentary on society and people. Although it is not a crime story in the usual sense, it is a crime of inhumanity, cruelty and ignorance. The story is fascinating and completely involving with an excellent revelation.

THE GOLDEN EGG (Pol Proc-Comm. Guido Brunetti-Venice-Contemp) - Ex
Leon, Donna - 22nd in series
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas

First Sentence:  It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least among private enquiry agents, that the most momentous of cases, the real corkers, begin on the blandest, most ordinary of days.
Cyrus Barker has a long history with Sebastian Nightwine going all the way back to their years in China.  Was Nightwine responsible for the death of Barker’s brother?  Yet now, years later, not only is Nightwine coming to London, he has received immunity from the British government and is about to do a major deal with him.  Nightwine recognized Barker will try to stop him and, in turn, is determined to destroy Barker.  The two are locked in a desperate game of wits and violence; Barker with his assistant Thomas Llewelyn at his side and Nightwine with an unanticipated ally.  Will anyone survive?
There is a wonderful sense of time and place from food, to clothes, to technology to the city of London itself.  Even without introduction, the voice of the narrator and the wry humor is so engaging--The Gov’s brows furrowed.  “You’ve been hired to protect someone from me?”  “You’ve been known to take a man apart like a watch.”  Barker considered this.  “Not unless he deserved it.”--one is immediately captivated. The case which is presented to Barker is unexpected and compelling.
Cyrus Barker is a fascinating character; a man of many skills and particular tastes.  We learn a good deal about his childhood and understand that much of what made him as he is.  Llewelyn, Barker’s assistant, has grown as a character.  For those who have been following the series, an interesting change is that Llewelyn takes the lead in much of this story. 
 Particular credit goes to the author for his secondary characters.  These are not cardboard figures but fully realized and developed characters.  Because of that, the reader becomes much more invested in the story and events.
Thomas skillfully inserts actual historical figures into the story but only in ways which would fit with their real lives.  He also educates us on a number of interesting subjects; including the use of ricin, information on the Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller and the Freemasons; and the creation of the ambulance service.  Rather than ever slowing the story down, the information serves to weaves the story together.  Some authors are so good you want to read sentences or passages aloud to someone else. Will Thomas is so good, you want to read the entire book aloud to someone else just to ensure they experience the same high quality of storytelling as did you.
 “Fatal Enquiry is excellent on every level.  In addition to those qualities already mentions, it has a cleverly constructed, gripping plot with excellent suspense, and a wonderful “Ah-ha!” moment.  It’s hard to wait for the next book in this marvelous series.

FATAL ENQUIRY (Hist Mys-Barker/Llewelyn-London-Victorian) – Ex
Thomas, Will
Minotaur Books, 2014