Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: Beastly Things by Donna Leon

Author: Donna Leon
Publisher-Format: Grove Atlantic e-galley
Year of publication: 2012 (April)
Subject: crime, meat processing
Setting: Venice Italy
Series: Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries
Genre: mystery - police procedural
Source:  Net Galley (e-file from publisher)
Recommended? for mystery fans, lovers of Venice, and devote├Ęs of the series

The latest Brunetti adventure. Donna Leon has been subtly (maybe not so subtly) leading up to the subject matter of this one for awhile: the safety of the beef being marketed, and the treatment of the cattle being slaughtered.  As we listened in to dinner conversations in the Brunetti household in previous episodes, we have become very aware of Chiara and Raffi's vegan leanings, and their outrage over practices in the industry, we've watched Paola and Guido roll their eyes over questions of what food is safe to eat, and whether the kids are over-reacting. We've agonized with Brunetti over the increasing pollution in the sacred canals of his city.   In Beastly Things, the latest in the series, Commissario Brunetti is called on to solve the murder of a well-loved veterinarian who was working part-time as a meat inspector at a local beef processing plant.  Leon manages to give us just enough gruesome detail to make the abattoir venue real, without gagging us with gore.

The plot is singularly uninspiring however, and I found myself asking "Is that all there is?"  Leon seems to be running out of gas.  The story is formulaic, the main characters certainly aren't advancing.  Brunetti, in spite of his horror at what he sees in the beef packing plant, goes right out and eats meat again.  In fact, he and Paola seem almost not to want to discuss the subject--sort of if we don't talk about it, we won't have to deal with it. We continue to watch Brunetti wrestle with his conscience over Signorina Eletra's ongoing tip-toeing around the law to find information by sometimes shady means, but other than that, we see little of the other characters in the Questora-- no LT Scarpa, only a brief appearance by Patta,  no in-laws, and very little even of the family.  Those of us who are fans of this series have come to look forward to the family dinners, and the husband and wife give and take over politics- both academic and office.  Obviously Brunetti, with Vianello's help,  is going to solve the mystery, but the story is one that seems carved out of cardboard, lacking in the charisma we expect from Guido Brunetti, and singularly uninspiring.

If you haven't read this series, I'd sure start with one of the earlier ones, and let's hope if Leon is going to take on other burning issues in Venice, they are woven into stories more in the mode we have come to expect.  A real disappointment.


  1. I have never read any of this series...and it sounds, like is often true, that I start at the beginning, not here.
    Author, sometimes it is time to pack in a series and move on to something new.

  2. I read the first book in this series back in February for February in Venice. I thought it was very good. It's disappointing that this book doesn't stand up. I'm glad I still have several books to read in the series before I get to this one.
    I hope the next book you read is more to your liking :o)

  3. 'All mystery novels are formulaic, so that comment is nonsensical. The critic's comment that Brunetti goes out and eats meat again is inaccurate. Brunetti does not eat meat in this novel. Chapter 9 is the one meal the family shares and it is not a meat meal.Brunetti and Vianello eat egg and tomato sandwiches and Paola and Guido have snacks of cheese and nuts with their wine.
    I enjoyed the police work in this book, it was methodical and for a change Guido was successful in the prosecution. Another satisfying novel from Ms. Leon!!

  4. I agree with Tina. This book was formulaic, as in 'having no special quality'. Brunetti's family and home life have provided a most charming warmth and depth. I missed that in Beastly Things. Yes, there are some home-scenes, but they are minor and transitional with no real development of the characters nor of the plot. IMO, it's the least engaging book in the series.


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