Willful Behavior gives us a look at how Italy addresses its fascist past. For the most part Italians have not faced up to that past, preferring to pretend that they were all democrats all along, and that Mussolini and his gang were an anomaly, best forgotten. In this story we are shown the legacy of art works stolen by the fascist government and its agents from people who had to flee the country or die. The granddaughter of one of those thieves asks for, first, Paula Brunetti’s, then Guido Brunetti’s help in finding out if it is possible to reverse the legal judgment against her grandfather. But soon the girl, a college student, is found murdered in her apartment. In his investigation, Brunetti uncovers a history of theft and corruption going back to the 30s and continuing to the present day.
This novel is a kind of turning point in the Brunetti series. After the traumas experienced by signorina Elettra in the preceding novel, A Sea of Troubles, Brunetti treats her with more concern and more respect, if that is possible. And he seems to have a deeper sadness about the coarseness of human nature, about the willingness of people to steal and to kill for money.
Finally, this novel clarifies the relationship between Brunetti and his father-in-law, the Count Orzini. There is a very moving passage in which Brunetti asks Orzini about his experiences in the Italian resistance. Orzini’s answer is that of a fundamentally decent man racked by guilt over the things he did, that he had to do, as a young man.
This is not the first Brunetti novel you should read. But if you’ve been reading others in the series, then this is one of the best.