Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon

Donna Leon is well-known for her detective series featuring the urbane Commissario Guido Brunetti. Her books often refers to tidbits of operatic music to set her themes. The settings are always in Venice and speak heavily of the angst felt by native Venetians about how commercialized the city is becoming, about the loss of traditions, etc. etc.

In Jewels of Paradise, Leon departs from the series to present us with a story still set in Venice and totally dependent on opera. If you are not familiar with opera, or don't like opera, and if you aren't comfortable with a lot of Italian, this is not your book. It certainly wasn't mine.

The premise is simple enough: two cousins think that a long dead relative who appears to have died intestate back in the mid 1700's, has left a "Treasure" and they are fighting over who is the rightful heir.  The publisher gives us a quick prècis of the plot:
After nearly three centuries, two locked trunks, believed to contain the papers of a once-famous, now largely forgotten baroque composer, have been discovered. The composer was deeply connected in religious and political circles, but he died childless, and now two Venetian men, descendants of his cousins, each claim inheritance. With rumors of a treasure, they aren’t about to share the possible fortune. Caterina has been hired to attend the opening of the trunks and examine any enclosed papers to discover the “testamentary disposition” of the composer. But when her research takes her in unexpected directions and a silent man follows her through the streets, she begins to wonder just what secrets these trunks may hold.
The publisher would have us believe this is a gripping and compelling story.  Sorry, dear readers, but to this reader anyway, it's not.  It's B.O.R.I.N.G.  In order to get to a rather delightful, and "gotcha" ending, we have to wade through long, dry paragraphs of history, church politics, and melodrama, not even fit for an opera.  Unless you're an opera buff, I wouldn't recommend this one to you.  It's too bad, because I've come to enjoy Leon's tongue-in-cheek humor, and rather cynical take on Venetian politics.  I almost felt like she'd done a ton of research on this subject, and didn't dare scrap any of it.  If Catarina Pellegrini is going to star in any future books, she'd better find something more engaging than reading through old books for hours on end, and much more exciting characters than an "is he or isn't he?" Abbè if she's going to hold our attention.

Author: Donna Leon
Publisher-Format: Grove Atlantic Inc.  E-galley via Net Galley
Date of publication: October 2, 2012
Subject: opera, Church politics, hidden treasures
Setting: Venice
Genre: mystery
Source: ebook from Net Galley


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