I really don’t want to write a negative review of this novel. I have read the previous 17 novels in the Brunetti series with great pleasure. The series has been consistently excellent, with well-drawn and believable characters, a nice mixture of politics and plot, irony and compassion. Eventually, though, nearly every mystery series hits the wall; the story elements don’t gel, the characters get stale, the author loses the initial passion that made the series come alive. Has this happened here? I don’t know.
The usual themes are present: corruption, the mafia, environmental destruction, bureaucratic incompetence. But the elements are introduced seemingly randomly - the murder victim seems entirely peripheral to the story. He was a businessman blackmailed into helping the mafia illegally transport toxic waste from elsewhere in Europe to Marghera, the chemical/petroleum processing region just outside Venice. But most of the story centers on the young wife of an elderly and very wealthy businessman with whom Brunetti’s father-in-law had planned to invest. The woman had what appeared to be excessive plastic surgery on her face; excessive enough that it was difficult to look at her. Brunetti found her fascinating because she shared Brunetti’s taste for classic literature. There are quite a number of plot twists along the way, but in the end you are left wondering whether there was one story or three, and how they were meant to relate to one another.
I have not detected the usual downward trend in this series - the gradual stasis of the characters, the growing sense that the author is just going through the motions. So I hope that this novel is just an anomaly, or that I just didn’t ‘get it’. But for anyone new to the series, start with any of the earlier novels - this one just doesn’t do justice to the series.