Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon

First Sentence:  He had always hated formal dinners, and he hated being at this one.
When is a case, not a case?  When it is a favour for the friend of your in-laws, even though the incident happened 15 years ago, with no dead body, and no real police investigation.  A wealthy aristocrat asks Brunetti to look into the supposed suicide attempt by drowning of her granddaughter, now irreparably brain damaged. But to the Contessa, things just don’t add up and, as she ages, she would like the truth.  With a little creativity, Brunetti convinces his boss that Guido should re-open the investigation, and finds things were not quite what they seemed.
Leon has a lovely way of taking us immediately into the story and introducing us to the important characters without even seeming to.  She also provides us a look into Brunetti’s understanding of human nature—“Only someone who knows us well knows how best to flatter us, knows which virtues we’d like to have attributed to us and which not.”  Yet such introspection is also offset by subtle humor—“There was a single cup of coffee, a silver sugar bowl, a spoon, two short glasses of thick cut crystal\al, and a bottle of whisky whose label made Brunetti stare. … ‘To your health,’ she answered and took a sip.  Brunetti did the same and thought he’d sell up everything and move to Scotland.  Paola could find a job teaching, and the children would find something to do with themselves.  Beg, for example.” 
It is two Leon’s great credit that there is a wonderful balance between Brunetti the policeman, and Brunetti the husband and father which makes the book so realistic and the character so identifiable.  His family life is such a wonderful asset to the full development of the character and to the story.  This this is one of the rare times, at least in this reviewer’s memory, that we have a physical description of Brunetti..Yet all the characters work so well.  One cannot help but love and admire the skills of Signorina Elettra, and understand their mutual disdain for Lt. Scarpa and the easily manipulated Patta.
A side story has to do with Italy’s immigrant situation, which is very interesting…”It didn’t matter how he had entered the country; the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants had long since been abandoned by the press….”  With immigrants being such a pivotal issue in so many countries, it is fascinating to learn how Italy deals with it.    But then, there is much in Leon’s writing to make one stop and consider, including about class prejudices.
The plot is fascinating as we really can’t quite tell where we are going, until there is one very well-done plot twist, followed by another.  It is interesting seeing Brunetti switch modes between doing research and investigating a crime scene.  Although there are coincidences and the case-solving clue comes upon us rather abruptly, it is  not the end of the story as we still learn about a superstition, and witness a lovely ending.
The Waters of Eternal Youth” is far more than a mystery.  It is about people, and relationships, and is all the more wonderful for it.

THE WATERS OF ETERNAL YOUTH (Pol Proc-Comm. Guido Brunetti-Venice, Italy- Contemp) – VG
Leon, Donna – 25th in series
Atlantic Monthly Press, March 2016

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