Sunday, March 31, 2013

Marco Vichi "Death and the Olive Grove"

About half way through Death and the Olive Grove I came to the conclusion that I’d better do a bit of digging into what has been termed the Italian Civil War, given the fact that his wartime experiences weigh heavily on Inspector Bordelli’s mind and the aftermath of the War shapes much of the plot in this second Inspector Bordelli investigation.

A subset of World War Two, we’re talking the period between 8 September 1943 and 2 May 1945 as the forces of Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic and the German forces in Italy fought the Italian partisans and the remnants of the Italian Royal Army who remained loyal to King Victor Emmanuel III.

Mussolini had been deposed and arrested on 25 July with the King appointing Pietro Badoglio as Prime Minister and although the new regime initially continued fighting on the Axis side, they surrendered to the Allies on 8 September with King and Cabinet fleeing Rome. Lacking orders and direction, over half a million Italian soldiers were rounded up by the Nazis though most of them (allegedly as many as 95%) refused to swear allegiance to the Italian Social Republic created on 23 September after the Germans occupied most of the Italian peninsula under an operation planned and carried out by Rommel.

That’s where things got really messy, with clashes between pro- and anti-Fascist forces, partisans and Germans and conflict fuelled by rivalries between the various members of the anti-Fascist front.

Having been an active participant in the fighting it’s hardly surprising Bordelli would be inclined to reminisce, and the camaraderie and shared experiences would account for Bordelli ending up Piras, the son of a partisan colleague, ending up as his offsider and probably explains his affinity with petty criminals around Florence. I’m guessing they’re the sort of people who would have been disinclined to support the established authorities who would presumably have leant towards the Mussolini camp in a bid to maintain order and prevent anarchy.

There was still fighting on the front lines between the Germans and the Allied forces who’d landed at Salerno on the Italian peninsula on 9 September and closer to Rome at Anzio (23 January 1944) and after they’d captured Monte Cassino at the end of a campaign that ran from January to May 1944 the Allied forces continued north, reaching the Gothic Line, something that was made possible by the US insistence on diverting troops from Italy to invade southern France rather than wrapping up the German forces in Italy, in August. That would have taken the fighting right through Bordelli’s territory on its way towards Pisa and Bologna before a stalemate through the northern winter.

It’s a side of the War that has been largely ignored as historians focussed on the big picture items elsewhere (notably on both sides of Germany and in the Pacific) but the fact that the war in Europe didn’t finish until May 1945 meant the partisans (and, presumably Bordelli) had something like twenty months of extremely muddled conflict that didn’t actually finish when the War itself ended (see Tobias Jones’ The Dark Heart of Italy on this side of things).

In any case, from where I’m sitting those factors mean it’s natural for Bordelli to be brooding on his wartime experiences, and you’d expect there’d be a fair degree of what we’ve come to know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in there as well. I’d also point out that much of this would be familiar territory to Italian readers, though that mightn’t be obvious to English, American or Australian readers of Stephen Sartarelli’s translation.

Some twenty years on from the War, in April 1964 (though spring hasn’t quite sprung) a small time thief named Casimiro, who happens to be a dwarf, has been foraging for food in an olive grove where he discovered a man’s body. Casimiro reports his find to his friend Bordelli, who does his best to look after his underworld contacts, but when the pair return to the apparent scene of the crime the body has vanished.

The olive grove is right beside a villa in the Florentine hills, owned by a German aristocrat who’s noticeably absent. While they’re there a large dog attacks them, is shot by Bordelli and they head off figuratively scratching their heads. Bordelli returns to the scene to find the dog has gone as well, Casimiro volunteers to keep his eye on the villa, and Bordelli turns his attention to the death of a seven year old girl found strangled with a strange bite on her belly.

When a second girl is found dead a couple of days later with the same macabre signature it’s obvious we’re looking at a deranged serial killer, and as the victims continue to pile up and Casimiro stays missing, Bordelli and his partner latch onto a suspect and place him under surveillance, which turns out to be an issue when the killings continue with the suspect seemingly sitting on an ironclad alibi.

Along the way they find Casimiro’s body, packed into a suitcase in his flat, and as the investigation continues there isn’t too much in the way of the forensic detecting we’ve come to expect in recent takes on the police procedural.

Actually, Death and the Olive Grove isn’t really a police procedural at all, more a police perambulation as Bordelli goes about his business, musing on his wartime experiences, picking up snippets of information from the numerous underworld figures that make up his circle of acquaintances and reassuring all and sundry that he’s working on the case and expects to come up with a solution soon.

The solution, when it arrives, is triggered by an involvement with a beautiful (and very much younger) associate of Nazi hunter Dr Levi, a sort of colleague from wartime, when they exacted an eye for an eye revenge against Germans who were responsible for atrocities involving Italians (Bordelli) and Jews (Dr Levi). Dr Levi is still on the case, pursuing a particularly nasty war criminal but isn’t interested in delivering him to the Italian criminal justice system.

If you’re looking for action packed tales involving forensic nitpicking, close attention to detail and a lively pace Bordelli probably isn’t for you, and if you’re averse to textual references to what amounts to high-powered chain smoking he’s definitely not for you, but if you’re a fan of Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano Bordelli's cut from much the same cloth with a healthy disrespect for his superiors, an obstinate determination to do things his way and an appetite that takes him into the kitchens of the Florentine restaurants he frequents.

An interesting character in a setting that suits the quirks in his personality, Bordelli might not be everyone’s cup of tea but he’ll do me. The next title in the series is an automatic purchase as far as Hughesy is concerned, and I’ll be watching the horizon for subsequent instalments...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Andrea Camilleri "The Dance of the Seagull"

In a note attached to the source that provided the recipe for Hughesy’s favourite slow-cooked Bolognese sauce someone commented along the lines of it doesn’t matter how old and doddering you get, if you can still put out a really good sugo (or, I guess an excellent ragu) people will continue to beat a path to your door. Salvo Montalbano’s hit 57, his creator has around thirty years on his creation, and The Dance of the Seagull delivers another hearty serve of character study disguised as crime novel.

Actually, I could come up with any number of food related observations when discussing a Montalbano novel, starting with the observation that I preordered this title through iTunes, had it downloaded immediately after publication and demolished it in a couple of sittings in much the same way as Montalbano demolishes a platter of the usual mullets.

Montalbano novels, much like the protagonist’s gastronomic accomplishments, tend to be hearty fare based around familiar ingredients and flavour profiles. Montalbano might be equal parts hearty eater and gourmet but he isn’t (at least as far as Hughesy can make out) the sort of diner who’s going to spend time lingering over subtle flavours and nuances.  He’ll spend his share of time pondering preoccupations with the physical changes that start to kick in as you move through your late fifties, and his internal monologue will rail against incompetence and corruption in Sicilian politics and the Italian bureaucracy while events around him follow a familiar (to long term fans and readers) pattern.

This time around his early morning insomnia has him staring at the ceiling around five-thirty, bitterly recalling his younger days when he was able to sleep through. Opening the doors to his beachside home the morning he’s due to head to Palermo to pick up Livia, his long-time main squeeze, he watches a seagull land on the beach, perform a peculiar dance, turning in circles with beak pointed to the sky before collapsing, dead. Placing it in a bin bag, Montalbano swims out to give it a respectful burial at sea and heads off to collect Livia, who has never seen some of the more picturesque parts of the island.

Montalbano might need a break, but he doesn’t need one in the Val del Noto, because he wouldn’t want to run into a film crew shooting an episode of that television series just as we’re walking around there . . . They film them around there...Predictably, the last thing he needs is to find himself face to face with the actor who plays me, a phobia (or, in Livia’s words a childish complex) he should be well and truly over, not least because he doesn’t look the least bit like you.

Before he can head off there are papers that need to be signed, which means a brief stop at the office, where a request to send Fazio to him produces the news that he hasn’t come in and seems to have gone missing, having apparently gone out alone on an investigation Montalbano knows nothing about.

According to his wife Fazio was meeting Montalbano at the docks the previous night and failed to return home, so the harbour’s an obvious place to start looking, and the vacation is, for all practical purposes, off. Arriving at the docks, Montalbano hears reports of shots fired in the dead of night.

Acting on information received they search a chiarchiaro, effectively a Mafia cemetery in a landscape of sinkholes and dry wells, the legacy of a cancelled highway project that took green and arable land and made a desert of it. There’s no immediate sign of Fazio, but two bodies are found before they track down Fazio in the same area, badly wounded having walked into an ambush with little memory of the finer details of the sequence of events that landed him there.

There’s obviously something dodgy going on at the waterfront, and it’s up to Montalbano to ensure that Fazio stays safe while his memory returns, figure out the identities of the bodies they’d found and get to the bottom of whatever it is that someone wants kept quiet.

Those things were never going to be easy, but there are a couple of issues that make them more difficult than they should be. For a start, with Fazio out of the investigative picture, Mimi Augello is distracted by an ongoing argument with his wife, Beba, the hospital is a fair drive from Vigata and he needs to make the journey there and back twice a day to fit in with visiting hours supervised by the nurse Salvo labels the Sing-Sing prison guard and when he gets there he’s easily confused by the hospital’s labyrinthine corridors and passageways.

Fortunately, there’s Angela, a helpful and very attractive nurse on hand to guide him to the requisite destination, though her apparent availability and willingness to participate in a bit of horizontal mambo comes across as definitely dodgy and, of course, along the way there are the regulation and requisite interactions with Catarella on the station swishboard, Commissioner Bonetti-Alderighi and his doorman, Deputy Commissioner Lattes (Caffè-Lattes behind his back) who continues to inquire politely regarding the health of Montalbano’s non-existent wife and children.

Fazio’s injury is the sort of thing the c'mishner is going to want to be kept up to speed with, and this time around the excuse that keeps Montalbano from attending requested interviews involves an impending visit by a Swiss specialist named Gruntz, who’ll be performing a rectal procedure called the double Scrockson. Given the excuse, Montalbano can’t be seen eating at Enzo’s trattoria when the Commissioner is eating there, so he’s forced to hole up in a back room, which has absolutely no effect on the Montalbano appetite.

The answer to the big, Fazio-related question turns out to involve a Mafioso with a big secret, the Russians, Arab terrorists and a prominent figure in the national government, a fact that would have the big boys from out of town stepping in if Montalbano can’t keep his cards close to his chest, which he (predictably) manages to do, using the usual mixture of intuition, inspiration and attention to seemingly insignificant detail.

And having done so, settles down to enjoy a substantial plate of caponata.

Gregg Allman "My Cross to Bear"

There’s an issue that cuts to the core of the should I read this question that invariably pops up when you sight news that someone whose music you’ve devoured over the years has “penned” an autobiography. In most cases, if you’ve been on board for a while you already know most of the story, or at least most of that part of the story that the subject/author has allowed to slip out. When you look at something like My Cross to Bear and you already know about the origins of the Allman Brothers Band, the deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, Gregg’s flirtation with Hollywood celebrity (his marriage to Cher), the drug busts, bouts with drugs and alcohol, liver transplants yada, yada, yada, you start to wonder whether there’s much more to tell.

Consciously or not, Allman sets out to give the reader the impression that there is by starting the tale towards the end, with the ABB’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, which came at the end of a five day binge. I was out of it — mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I was drunk, man, just s---faced drunk, the entire time. Welcome to the story of my life. 

With the prospect of rock’n’roll excess writ large, things continue much as you’d anticipate, beginning in Nashville and a fatherless childhood (his father, a D-Day veteran was shot in the back and killed by a stranger he’d offered a lift home from a bar when Gregg was two). In those circumstances you’d guess little brothers (Baybruh was Duane’s nickname for him) tend to see elder male siblings as quasi-father figures and two stints in military school as a young boy are the sort of thing that’d tend to strengthen the bond.

From there it’s off to Daytona Beach, Florida, where the teenage Allmans assemble the first of several cover bands, leading up to the Escorts (1965, the Beatles-imitation), the mod Allman Joys (1966, mod-influenced) and the Hour Glass (1967, psychedelic) on the way to the jam on 26 March 1969 that signalled the birth of the Allman Brothers Band. Over the preceding couple of years they’d moved from Florida to California by way of Georgia and when California failed to work out Duane had picked up session work at Muscle Shoals, recalling his brother from Los Angeles when he had the makings of a decent band.

If the jam hadn’t worked out, the odds are, according to Allman, that he’d have ended up studying medicine or dentistry, which suggests there’s the odd brain cell lurking below Gregg’s minimalist on-stage patter.

Gregg had been the first to pick up a guitar (visiting family in Tennessee one summer) after an R&B show featuring Otis Redding, but it was soon obvious that the older Allman could play circles around his sibling. Baybruh did more than get one of the great guitarists started. With Duane suffering from a cold Gregg left a bottle of Coricidin and the first Taj Mahal album outside his brother’s door on the morning of his twenty-second birthday. The Coricidin bottle became Duane’s preferred slide and by the evening he was sort-of able to play along with Jesse Ed Davis on Statesboro Blues.

Within four years of that first jam the Allman Brothers Band was, for all practical purposes, the biggest band in the USA, headlining with The Band and the Grateful Dead at Watkins Glen in front of an estimated crowd of six hundred thousand, but success came at a price.

Given the closeness of the fraternal relationship you might have expected a detailed discussion of the circumstances surrounding Duane’s death in a motorcycle accident on 29 October 1971, barely a fortnight after Live At Fillmore East went gold. There’s a chapter devoted to the accident, but little that would count as new information apart from the revelation that there’d been an incident on the morning of the accident involving Duane’s cocaine stash and a subsequent phone call that meant Gregg’s last words to his brother were a lie, something that haunted him for years and could probably be seen as the cause of later drug and alcohol issues if they hadn’t been there already.

Cocaine got him through the funeral, but the two of them had already tried heroin, and the pair’s recreational use before Duane’s death had been significant (and noticeable enough) to have them pulled aside for a warning from Atlantic Records’ Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, who’d seen plenty of artists’ careers take a nosedive due to the effects of addiction.

A few months before Duane’s death he’d aimed to keep Gregg away from the draft (and, more than likely, service in Vietnam) by having him shoot himself in the foot while drunk, which might have been understandable, but also definitely points towards a propensity on both parts for impulsive risk taking behaviours. Having noted that, one also notes Gregg doesn’t try to gild the lily or make excuses for a lengthy spell of drug and alcohol abuse.

Just over a year after the accident that took Duane out of the picture, ABB bassist died in similar circumstances. Popular mythology suggests Oakley grieved himself to death, but Gregg suggests that, rather than wanting to die I just think he didn't want to live, though he admits he could have done more to help him.

With two out of six original members gone it’s ironic that the next couple of years provided the Allman Brothers Band a commercial heyday based around the emerging songwriting talent of Dickie Betts, which turned out to be, at least with Rambling Man and Blue Sky, something quite distinct from the hard core electric blues and jazz-inspired jamming that was the band’s original trademark.

Success is almost invariably a two-edged sword. While the band as a whole, and Allman in particular, got their spell of fame and fortune in the wake of Fillmore East, Eat a Peach and Brothers and Sisters and scored a couple of hit singles in the form of the Dickey Betts-penned Blue Sky and Ramblin’ Man, these things invariably come with a cost, and in Allman’s case the price tag included multiple marriages, subsequent divorces, addictions and health issues that culminated in a 2010 liver transplant as a consequence of hepatitis C (allegedly coming from an unsanitary tattoo needle).

Allman is fairly frank about both sides of the coin. Women threw themselves at him, and as a notional southern gentleman he probably would have thought it was bad manners to turn them away. When Allmans graduated to chartered jet status and boarded the Boeing 720, someone had written Welcome Allman Bros in cocaine on the bar.

From there the tabloid headline side of things gets the regulation airing, the marriage to Cher (the third of six wives, who smelled like I would imagine a mermaid would smell), hobnobbing with the likes of Jimmy Carter and the drugs busts (he was spared from one in 1976 in return for testimony against the road manager who’d bought the drugs for him and it broke up the band).

 There are helpful survival tips for would-be rockers for young players (When you know you’re going to scream, you lay your head back, which spreads your vocal cords real wide, and when the scream comes out, it barely nicks your vocal cords) and he’s tried to protect his hearing by staying stage right, out of the line of fire. He’d been stage right for most of the Allmans’ existence, but that issue would have been well to the fore in the years leading up to the dismissal of guitarist Dickey Betts, who ain’t no devil. He’s just a mixed-up guy.

Betts is portrayed as a petty tyrant, who’d become the de facto leader of the band after Duane’s death and Gregg’s substance issues seem to have pushed him into the role. Betts’ own substance issues took hold in the years leading up to his ousting from the band in 2000. According to Allman, he and founder drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe intended the move as an opportunity for Dickey to clean up and would have welcomed the reformed guitarist back into the fold. With the subsequent inclusion of Warren Haynes into the fold as effectively, musical director, and the emergence of Derek Trucks, who Allman sees as his brother reincarnated, however, that was probably never a serious possibility.

Those points, for me, at least, cover the major points in the story (or at least the ones that are of most interest to Yours Truly), but there’s plenty of detail and reminiscence to flesh out the tale. Innumerable admissions to rehab centres, half a dozen marriages, two dissolutions of the Allman Brothers Band, drug and alcohol issues, personality clashes and creative decay within the outfit and assorted suicides, murders and accidents on the periphery, hepatitis C and a liver transplant, it’s (seemingly) all there, though you can’t help feeling a couple of matters are skipped over rather lightly.

If he’s inclined to do that while exploring the musical gumbo that the Allman Brothers Band whipped up in their heyday and continue to work right up to the present, you can’t really blame him. An interracial sextet coming out of the Deep South is remarkable in itself, the commercial success they achieved in the early seventies unprecedented, and the subsequent turmoil and travails, with the benefit of hindsight, rather unremarkable.

It’s not as if the ABB was the only band torn apart by substances and creative issues in the wake of fame and considerable fortune. What is remarkable, and one’s inclined to suspect co-author Alan Light deserves some of the credit here, is the sharp focus Allman gives to most of the reminiscence.

Though there are places where he could have gone into much more detail what’s there is delivered without apology and the result is a close to three-dimensional portrayal of the interaction of musical talent, fragile emotions and, predictably, rock and roll excess. It’s an interesting read for those who are familiar with the background and the public story, and a cautionary tale for those who might not be.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Donna Leon "Beastly Things"

It has taken twenty-one volumes to do it, but Commissario Brunetti’s son Raffi has (finally) finished school and headed off to University. Apart from that development practically nothing (apart from the emergence of Elettra Zorzi back in Dressed for Death, the third volume in the series) has changed as far as the major characters are concerned since the first episode. It’s fairly obvious that Donna Leon hit on a winning formula way back in Death at La Fenice and has been able to spin the same elements out every year since. It’s a remarkable achievement.

Of course, it helps to have the right setting. Given the endemic corruption in the Italian political system and the wealth of social, political and environmental issues and throw in a healthy dose of ambition, and a heaping helping of greed and you’ve got plenty to work with. Greed drives the wrongdoers, and Brunetti has to tackle cases with thorny implications while steering around Vice-Questore Patta’s determination to look after the well-connected and maintain Venice’s reputation as a Mecca for cashed-up tourists. Brunetti, of course loathes them, detests him, can almost read him like a book and has worked out how to manage him.

This time around the investigation is prompted by the discovery of a body in a canal, hardly an unusual starter either, and the corpse isn’t carrying a wallet or anything else that might help to identify him. No one has been reported missing, there no hotel guests unaccounted for, and the face has been damaged while in the water. He is, however, missing a shoe and the one he’s was wearing is rather distinctive. Every little bit helps.

A bigger help is a rare, disfiguring disease. Madelung's disease (Benign symmetric lipomatosis) is a condition that results in extensive fat deposits around the head, neck, and shoulders, often related to alcohol abuse, though there’s no sign of it in this case.Given that condition there’s something familiar about the man, and Brunetti realises he’s seen the victim before, at a farmers' protest that was filmed by news camera crews and a look at the video footage delivers an image that Brunetti can use in the investigation.

When Brunetti and Vianello set out to canvass the shoe stores they end up in Mestre on the mainland, and learn the victim was a kind man who had a way with animals, and he’s eventually identified as Dottor Andrea Nava, a popular veterinarian whose funeral, described in a moving epilogue, attracts a large congregation that includes nearly as many pets as it does people. epilogue Leon describes the funeral service for an upright, yet all too human, veterinarian where there are as many pets as people in the congregation.

Which leaves the question of why someone would want to stab him in the back three times and dump the body in a canal. He might be estranged from his wife but she faints when Brunetti and Vianello, break the news to her. Guilt or grief? His assistant at his veterinary practice, can shed no light on his death although she reveals he was working moonlighting as a part-time meat inspector at a local abattoir. That’s the environment that resulted in the dalliance with Director Alessandro Papetti’s personal assistant Giulia Borelli, though that doesn’t seem to provide a motive for murder.

A tour of the slaughterhouse brings Brunetti and Vianello up against the realities of the meat industry that made vegetarians of his colleague Vianello and his daughter Chiara.
That particular sequence is a gruesome read though the experience isn’t enough to turn Brunetti into a vegetarian. It does, however, shape dinner conversations in the Brunetti household and interactions with Vianello and Signorina Elettra at the Questura. If you’re not inclined towards the gory details you won’t miss anything by skipping over that section.

Outside the ethical issues associated with slaughterhouses there are the usual elements running alongside the main investigation. Signorina Elettra, as usual, manages to hack into the computer system of whatever Italian institution or government department and Vianello is starting to pick up the same skills but has a way to go to catch the Signorina.
Brunetti’s conscience isn’t entirely happy about this, but he’s not going to forego the useful info, is he?

The investigation meanders along clearly and logically, with everything falling neatly into place in the end and discussions about marital fidelity and the risks therein (Vianello reckons he’d be shot, and Brunetti would either be pushed off the balcony or a rapid transferred to a Mafia infested town in the South), Italian losses in the First World War (Raffi’s studying modern history at the University) and the relative strengths of various players’ social connections.

There’s nothing there that’s new, and Beastly Things is of a piece with everything that has gone before. Number Twenty-two, The Golden Egg, is due in April. The preorder is already in.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Donna Leon "Acqua Alta"

A North Queensland wet season with the regular river rises and frequent flooding is probably a good time to read something set in the middle of the Venetian acqua alta (high water). One of Leon’s strengths is the way Venice is portrayed through Venetian eyes, and the portrait isn’t always painted at the most attractive time of the year.

Acqua alta refers to exceptional winter tide peaks in the Venetian Lagoon and the northern Adriatic. There’s partial flooding in Venice as the tides are reinforced by seasonal winds, the southerly sirocco and the north-easterly bora, which blows across the Venetian lagoon. The two combine to hamper the usual outflow resulting from winter rains, which is also affected by the long rectangular shape of the Adriatic (there’s an oscillating water motion, the seiche, that supplements the regular tidal cycle to produce more extreme tidal events than you’d find in the rest of the Mediterranean basin), the shape of the Venetian lagoon, soil subsidence in Venice and the coastal areas around the Lagoon and rising sea levels.

When all these factors coincide they prevent one high tide from ebbing, which means the next high comes over the top of it in a sort of self-perpetuating cycle and it’s time to sound the sirens and alert the citizens of an intense event (80 to 109 cm above regular sea level, affecting up to 14% of the city), a very intense episode (110 to 139 cm, up to 54%) or exceptional high waters (above 140 cm). If it gets to two metres the whole city will go under.

The flooding isn’t uniform due to differing heights above sea level throughout the city, distances from channel and canals, the height of the footpaths (fondamenta), and the layout of the sewerage and drainage network. In such circumstances no sensible person will leave home without their gumboots and the routes they take to and from work, shopping and whatever leisure activities they’re inclined to indulge in aren’t necessarily the shortest line connecting two locations. Police work and civil rescues are affected by the waters, and the ways in which the locals deal with the day to day issues adds colour to the series, and fleshes out a rather straightforward plot line.

As far as that plot line is concerned, Acqua Alta reintroduces us to American art historian and archaeologist Brett Lynch and her lover, operatic diva Flavia Petrelli from Death at La Fenice, the first book in the series. Brett, who organised an exhibition of Chinese pottery, is savagely beaten by two well-dressed men, who warn her not to keep an appointment with Dottor Semenzato, director of the museum where the exhibition was displayed.

Brunetti is one of the few who are appalled by the attack, since he knows Brett and Flavia from the earlier episode, and he’s determined to track down the culprit. Vice-Questore Patta isn’t that concerned by an assault on a foreigner who happens to be a lesbian, but when museum director Semenzato is murdered there’s a bit more urgency in the investigation (as far as he’s concerned, anyway).

There’s more than likely some connection between the two cases, and even if it turns out there isn’t, that assumption is the obvious place to start. As Brunetti continues the investigation it becomes clear that the exhibition of Chinese antiquities is a key piece in the jigsaw puzzle.  It seems Semenzato had been peddling artworks, including some lifted from the Chinese exhibition and replaced with close replications, and his customers include some influential people, including a Sicilian who simultaneously is and isn’t the stereotypical Mafia boss.

By the fifth title in a series that runs to more than twenty and counting, the themes that underlie a Brunetti mystery are firmly in place and the long term reader knows, more or less, what the story’s going to be about. In those circumstances the local colour, the acqua alta, the intricacies of the heating system in the Questura and the interactions between and among the regular characters are what keeps the reader coming back for more, assuming the Brunetti stories are the kind of thing that floats your boat.