THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY
Donna Leon

 


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Arrow Books, Random House Australia, April 2007
Reviewed by Kerrie Smith

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY is set in Venice, with the action mainly centred on Murano, the famous Venetian glass making island. Donna Leon's very human Commissario Guido Brunetti, influenced by the onset of spring, begins an unofficial investigation for a colleague. A friend has been arrested while protesting against the chemical pollution of the Venetian lagoon by the factories of Marghera. The investigation reveals threats by a glass factory owner against his own son-in-law; a father who believes his young daughter's intellectual disability has been caused by chemicals; mystery; a murder; and serious questions about the future of Venice.

All the usual characters of this series are here. Guido Brunetti is not just a policeman, married to a professore; he is cultured, educated, sensitive to the feelings of others, intuitive, and unafraid to follow his hunches. Middle-aged, a husband and a father, he is deeply in love with his wife and with the city of Venice. He and the other characters are richly and vividly drawn. The enigmatic Signorina Elettra uses her networks to obtain sensitive information, while Brunetti's boss, Vice-Questore Patta is buoyed by hopes of an Interpol position.

The stories Donna Leon tells us through her novels are believable and carry elements of authenticity, often focussing on current issues. THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY is no exception. It invites the reader to think about the pollution of the Venetian lagoon, and the future of Venice's industries as the markets are undercut by cheap imitative imports.

The title THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY is a clever play on the biblical quotation where "glass'" is often interpreted as a mirror. I prefer to think of it as "not very clear" glass. The quotation was also used in Shakespeare's The Tempest. It generally means that we don't really understand properly what is happening now, but eventually we will. Donna Leon has used that meaning but also links it to the fact that the setting is the island of Murano, where the best Venetian glassware comes from.

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY is fifteenth in the Brunetti series. Number sixteen, SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN, is already available. Donna Leon has lived in Venice for a number of years and her love of the city, knowledge of its history, and concern for its future come through very strongly. If you've ever been to Venice, or even if you haven't, you'll wonder why you haven't read any of this series before. And if you are already a Donna Leon friend, then here is another that will not disappoint.

April 2007 review originally published at Murder and Mayhem

 

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