Transient Desires by Donna Leon

Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates when two American girls are left injured and unconscious outside the hospital after a boating accident. At first, he’s on the trail of the two boys who left them there and ran away, but the behaviour of one of them seems to hint at something more complicated beneath the surface.

Reading a detective story set in Venice was such a treat! I really liked the atmosphere of the city in the story and the little local colour and lifestyle details. I liked how the characters went home for lunch, drank coffee, ate local foods, took the vaporetto. It was such a lovely escapism for me and I found that really fun.

It’s odd that I’ve never read any of the books in this series before. This book is the 30th one that Donna Leon has written about Guido Brunetti and they’re all set in Venice. It’s a hugely popular series, probably partly because Leon lived and worked in Venice for about 25 years, so she really has that sense of place and life down, as well as being a really good mystery writer. And I love a good mystery. So I’m very happy that I read this. I will say that you don’t have to have read others in the series to read this one.

Guido Brunetti is a really nice protagonist. He’s very sharp but also has a warm, whimsical side to him. He’s a family man, he likes to read classics. And his partner is a wonderful woman whom he has this wonderful connection with: they both see through people very well and team up to question people in some really good scenes. I found that I really was interested in his perspective on the crime.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot because it’s fun to have it unfold as you read, but it wasn’t an old fashioned whodunnit, with a murder in the first act. I don’t know how Leon structures her other stories in this series but I liked that I wasn’t sure what the crime behind the initial set up was. And that was fun.

Leon’s characters in this book speak about the way that family and connections play a big part in Italian life. There’s nepotism and the way that, for example, a fisherman’s son becomes a fisherman for generations, and will find it very hard to be anything else. And there’s also the sense that someone from, for example, Naples, will always be stereotyped and an outsider in Venice. This effects everything in stories about Italy, the way things work, and the grinding wheels of bureaucracy, greased palms or the way that organised crime works there. I feel like this perhaps is one of the most novel and engaging aspects of this story. The way that the mystery comes about and is solved in this world. It is a beautiful world, and I think the author loves it, but it’s subtle and complex.

All around, I really liked Brunetti and found the journey and his colleagues very engaging. And the Venice setting was delicious. I’ll be looking forward to more of these books.

Read It If: you want a mystery with the added element of a little bit of escapism or an Italian twist. I really enjoyed this one.

Thank you PGC Books for the ARC of this book for review. Transient Desires is out March 2021

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