The return of a favorite sleuth is always welcome, and Donna Leon kindly brings back Commissario Guido Brunetti to the mystery lover's plate for another taste of the sophisticated cuisine, politics, and myriad body language signals of Italy.
Guido Brunetti is almost your typical detective - except for being a born and bred middle-class Venetian who desperately tries not to bring his work home. Investigating murder and high crime among the patrician families of old Venice is not easy, but he gets help from a few clever colleagues: the beautiful secretary and researcher Signorina Elettra, the loyal Vianello, the persistent Pucetti, and the often duplicitous and self-aggrandizing Vice-Questore Patta. Brunetti tempers his daily gazes into the mouth of hell by thinking of his wife and children or food. Surprisingly, this doesn't weaken him; rather, this daily rehumanization allows him amazing insights into the human psyche. With Sherlockian prowess, he is able to uncover clues he might not otherwise be privy to.
In Dressed for Death, Brunetti is trying to escape from heat. It is August in Venice, and the city is shutting down due to high temperatures. Unfortunately, Brunetti can't get away fast enough; the body of a transvestite is found under a bush and his vacation is cancelled. Sending his wife and children ahead of him, foolishly thinking everything will be wrapped up quickly, Brunetti must face down not only the usual thug killers but the intricacies of greedy politicians, lawyers, and merchants who are all backed by an enigmatic agency everyone has heard of but anything about which no one seems to really know.
Brunetti thinks and bumbles his way into clues and into the truth. The touch of reality in the book is that, more than once, Brunetti's hands are tied by bureaucracy, a jealous boss, and a lack of evidence. However, like most sophisticates, Brunetti allows nothing to rattle him but doggedly follows up each link in the chain until it inevitably leads him to the suspect he has been after all along.
This is a definite winner from Donna Leon and a must-read for all mystery lovers. The good thing about a mystery set in a different country is the ability to feel (albeit briefly) that you've been transported there and are actually part of the community. Venice is probably one of the most romantic cities known to man; everyone wants to visit but few are actually privileged to live there. Leon gives not only the color of the city but the texture and smells. Fantastic descriptions, witty word play, and a solid mystery make this one of the best books I've read in a long time.