The Waters of Eternal Youth (Commissario Guido Brunetti)

Written by Donna Leon |

POLICE PROCEDURAL, set in Venice. Commissario Brunetti doesn’t like fancy dinner parties, even when they’re given by his wife Paola’s mother theContessa Falier. His in-laws own one of Venice’s most resplendent palazzos but Guido, Paola, and their two children prefer their own cozy, unglamorous life in a comfortable apartment. Brunetti is a policeman. Their two children are in school. Paola teaches English at the University, and when she is engrossed reading Henry James she may not hear you if you speak to her.

Still, Brunetti attends the dinner, as good sons-in-law must, and Contessa Falier tells him that their official hostess, her dear, old friend Contessa Dometriana Lando-Continui wanted to look him over and arrange another, more private meeting. It seems Contessa Lando-Continui’s granddaughter Manuela survived a great tragedy. Fifteen years earlier, the young girl was pulled out of a canal, not breathing. A passerby performed artificial respiration and saved her life but she had been in the water too long. Her mind was that of an eight-year-old child. Now, as the Contessa contemplates her own mortality, she wants to know if it was truly an accident that befell her beautiful and talented granddaughter – or something darker.

A born-and-bred Venetian, with his share of Italian regional prejudices, Brunetti is cynical about many things. Here he is contemplating MOSE, the civic boondoggle of barriers whose construction is meant to keep the rising seas from drowning Venice. “After a brief flirtation with indignation, Brunetti’s natural good sense had asserted itself and he had dismissed disgust as an inappropriate response. Better to think like a Neapolitan and view it all as theater, as farce, as our leaders at play doing what they do best.” A few pages later he listens to an English guest at the dinner party. “’Why does it take so long?’ the banker asked, making Brunetti wonder if this were his first visit to Italy.” No matter how jaundiced the eye the Commissario casts at Italian politics and politicians, he feels a powerful urge to protect the innocent and stand for justice. Without much hope for answers he undertakes to investigate the long ago incident. And soon under Brunetti’s gentle probing what befell Manuela looks less and less like an accident.

There are books you read for the heart pounding thrills and chills, the twisty plots or romantic suspense. Not Donna Leon. The author writes books to settle in with after a long week. Find a welcoming chair, pour a glass of good wine – and put your credit cards in a safe place so you can’t impulsively book a trip to Italy. I’m a dedicated fan, and have a shelf of previous titles waiting to be reread. Some books are better than others – this is one of the betters – but I’m never disappointed when I get to spend a few hours with Commissario Brunetti.

NOTE: A complete list of Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti books can be found on the Magpie Recommends page.

Donna Leon
The Waters of Eternal Youth
Atlantic Monthly Press/Grove Atlantic
March 2016