By Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press
To protect a younger colleague from saying something he shouldn't in a case with political implications, Commissario Guido Brunetti fakes a heart condition. To his surprise, he is advised at the hospital to take some time off to recuperate in Donna Leon's 26th novel in the series, Earthly Remains. Brunetti realizes he should take a step away from his work.
His wife's family holdings include a villa on one of the largest islands in the laguna. There, he connects with an older man who knew Brunetti's father and who takes him rowing in a boat he built himself. Brunetti and Davide Casati quickly form one of those easy-going male friendships that is respectful of the other's privacy. Casati, the villa's caretaker, spends much of his time rowing and tending to beehives located throughout the laguna. He mourns his wife, who suffered before dying of cancer, and spends some time with his daughter and her family. But it is the rowing, the bees and the mourning that occupy most of Casati's time and heart.
It is the death of bees at several hives that appears to be a tipping point for Casati. He tells Brunetti his wife's death is his fault and he is going to go talk to her. Casati disappears.
In tracing Casati's life backward from the time he left a factory and became a caretaker and beekeeper, Brunetti encounters other people who together weave a story of legacy. When someone leaves this life, what will be his earthly remains? What of the earth will remain? As Casati asks Brunetti, "Do you think somme of the things we do can never be forgiven?"
Leon has a light touch when bringing conclusions into the story. It is the questioning, and the wanting to consider the possible answers to the questions, that form the strong underpainting in her work.
As our hero ponders:
Brunetti had spent much of his reading life amidst the minds and convictions of people who had lived thousands of years ago, and he had learned not to laugh at their ideas but to try to understand why they thought the way they did. After all, his own world lived in constant discovery of its own ignorance.
The contrast in characters, their motives and their fates is fascinating and provokes curiosity. Seeing the choices each character made in the past, and how it has impacted their present and the future of others, is one of the most rewarding aspects of Earthly Remains.
The most rewarding aspect, however is the time spent with Brunetti and Paola, Brunetti's colleagues and the Brunetti library.
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