by : Donna Leon
Donna Leon's international best-selling Commissario Guido Brunetti series has won her legions of passionate fans, reams of critical acclaim, and a place among the top ranks of international crime writers. Brunetti, both a perceptive investigator and a warm-hearted and principled family man, is one of the treasured characters of contemporary mysteries. Through her engaging Commissario, Leon has explored Venice in all its aspects: its history, beauty, architecture, seasons, food and social life, but also the crime and corruption that seethe below the surface of La Serenissima.
When the body of man is found in a canal, damaged by the tides, carrying no wallet, and wearing only one shoe, Brunetti has little to work with. No local has filed a missing-person report, and no hotel guests have disappeared. Where was the crime scene? And how can Brunetti identify the man when he can't show pictures of his face? The autopsy shows a way forward: it turns out the man was suffering from a rare, disfiguring disease: Madelung. It is a disease that usually affects alcoholics (although the autopsy shows in question was not one), predominantly affects Italians (it's less likely he was a tourist) and causes tremendous swelling of the upper body and neck. No one who saw the afflicted man would likely forget him.
With Inspector Vianello, Brunetti canvasses shoe stores, and soon discovers that the man in question was a veterinarian, Dr. Nava. Interviews with the man's estranged wife reveal that Nava had a second job at the Preganziol slaughterhouse on the mainland in Mestre. Also that he was having an affair with a co-worker, who he suspects is the beautiful and possibly ruthless Giulia Borelli.
Brunetti rarely ventures to the mainland, and is taken further out of his comfort zone upon witnessing the animals being slaughtered at Preganziol. But beyond his disgust, he suspects that something not quite right is going on out on the mainland. He interviews the other veterinarian, Meucci, who used to examine the animals to verify that they were fit for slaughter until his failing health forced him to leave. Signorina Elettra, Patta's highly efficient secretary with the skills to access all sorts of databases, digs up the fact that Meucci's credentials are shady. Perhaps it's enough to pressure him to reveal enough for Brunetti and Vianello to solve the case.
At the same time, animal rights and meat consumption are quickly becoming preoccupying issues at the Venice Questura, and in Brunetti's home. Signorina Elettra and Vianello are preaching to Brunetti about the negative impact of meat consumption. And he notes his daughter Chiara's ongoing loose vegetarianism.
Paola, Brunetti's wife, comes to him with ethical constraints of a different variety. She vaguely asks about the obligations to report an ongoing crime. He gets the details out of her eventually, of course: a visiting professor at her university is stealing books. With brilliant deviousness, Paolo brings it to an end.
As subtle and engrossing as ever, Leon's Beastly Things is immensely enjoyable, intriguing, and ultimately moving.