I’ve been terribly critical of Leon’s recent work, so it was nice that this time around there was nothing especially not to like. Even at her worst (as in The Jewels of Paradise) Leon writes intelligently and well, especially by comparison with most police procedurals, so my criticisms have been mostly out of disappointment that not every one of her books can be as good as the best of her books. Here, in Falling in Love, she returns to the character of Flavia Petrelli, introduced in her first Brunetti novel, Death at La Fenice, seeking, perhaps, to recapture the brilliance of those early novels. She doesn’t quite succeed, but comes close.
So, why doesn’t this succeed? I think, in part, it is that Leon has lost much of her earlier political passion. In the early novels there was always something that she delighted in tearing apart: corporate greed, political corruption, environmental spoilage, the power of the military. More recently I believe she has lost that passion and has, perhaps, even turned to the right. Her ire, now, is aimed at the hordes of tourists in Venice and the resultant “cheapening of everything” there. She aims her guns at “shoddy Chinese-made” goods, without going further and looking at the political causes of the influx of cheap foreign goods. She has one of her characters deride workers for going on strike during the great financial crisis: “They’re crazy! We need these jobs”, says the character (approximately). Leon does have Brunetti think to himself that the character is not showing much working class solidarity - but even that is expressed ironically, as if Brunetti doesn’t think much of such solidarity. Paola, especially, has entirely given up her leftist and anti-clerical views. And in Falling In Love we are even treated to the spectacle of Brunetti going into a church to reverently light a candle for his mother.
Having this novel feature Flavia Petrelli, the opera singer from the first novel, makes us think a little about the passage of time in the Brunetti series. In this latest novel, Chiara is still at home, in high school as far as I can tell, and Raffi is still in college. This suggests that the novels must be spaced about 3 months or so apart, so the 20 years that separates the first from the most recent novel in real time is about 5, maybe 6, years. That’s quite a short time for Brunetti and Paolo to have shed their outrage over the ills of capitalism and to have become apathetic or resigned. But, I guess, 20 years is not too short a time for Leon to have done so.
Once again the publisher, Grove Atlantic, has managed to do a perfectly awful job of typography. They clearly do not care about their readers or authors: if they did, they would make an effort to make their books look like something published by professionals. I do hope that Leon is not in a long term contract with Atlantic Press: she deserves far better.