A man’s body with multiple stab wounds is found floating in a Venetian canal. The victim was suffering from a rare disfiguring disease that Brunetti hopes will help him in the identification of the man.
Beastly Things is the 21st book in the Commissario Brunetti series, and once again reading Donna Leon felt like putting on a comfortable pair of old slippers. If the Brunetti series is written to a formula it is a both well trodden and fully satisfying one. The crimes are almost an afterthought to the task of bringing together a group of interestingly predictable characters and cataloguing their interactions. The fact that two of the series main characters are Italy and Venice with their multitude of faults and idiosyncrasies keeps the books entertaining.
Beastly Things deals with corruption in the Italian meat industry, but also blends in discussions on infidelity, Mafia, power, the horrendous Italian losses in the First World War and whose relatives and friends are more influential. All the main characters from the series, Paola, Guido, Vianello, Signorina Elettra and Vice-Questore Patta appear in the novel and by their actions or inactions encapsulate the problem that is modern Italy.
To manage the arrest of the highest members of a Mafia clan in a major city was to guarantee transfer to some backwater in Molise or Sardegna, where major crimes included theft of livestock or public drunkeness. Thus perhaps Patta’s professional longevity in Venice, where the mounting evidence of Mafia infiltration did nothing to spur his efforts to combat it.
And later in the book Guido and Paola discuss a problem at the university.
‘You said he’s politically well connected,’ Brunetti said, ‘Aren’t you afraid of that?’ She smiled the shark smile he had come to recognize when she was at her most dangerous. ‘Not at all. My father is far better connected than his patrons are, so he can’t touch me.’
There is an amusing passage where Brunetti and Vianello discuss what would be the reaction of their wives if they were unfaithful. Vianello decided he would be shot, while Brunetti had a choice between being pushed off the balcony after Paola had spread the word he was very depressed, or a rapid transfer arranged by her father to a Mafia infested small town in the South.
Beastly Things is a solid police procedural in which there is social commentary and exploration of the way Venetian society functions. It is an easy read and Leon’s Brunetti with his lovely wife, children and happy home life is always a pleasant change from other divorced alcoholic miserable male detectives.