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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Review: 'The Waters of Eternal Youth'

The Waters of Eternal Youth (a Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery)
By Donna Leon
Crime fiction
March 2016
Atlantic Monthly Press
ISBN: 978-0802124807

Past, present and future, family and strangers all play roles in Donna Leon's latest Commissario Guido Brunetti novel, The Waters of Eternal Youth, working together for a subtly enriching, always engaging reading experience.

Brunetti is roped along with his wife to a formal dinner for a Venetian preservation charity dear to the heart of a friend of her family. The aristocratic patroness commands his presence for a later interview. She is old and there is something from the past she wishes to have settled. Many years ago, a beautiful teenage girl -- a Venetian afraid of the water -- fell into a canal one night. She was starting to drown but was saved by a passerby. The man who saved her, an alcoholic, thinks she was pushed but can remember nothing specific. Who he was is unclear. The girl was the aristocrat's granddaughter, and she has been trapped in a child's mind ever since. Before the grandmother dies, she wants to know the truth.

What can Brunetti find out? Was a crime committed? Is there any way to go back 15 years to find out? If so, is there any way to bring anyone responsible to justice?

Reluctantly drawn to the older woman's story, Brunetti will see what he can find out. This includes seeing what the ever-resourceful Elettra can find out. This most remarkable woman is on a quest of her own regarding electronic goings-on. Brunetti also enlists the aid of another policewoman with previously unknown skills of her own, Griffoni, who plays a key role in moving things along.

At the same time, Brunetti is disturbed to discover new refugees are starting to bother the girls outside school, including his daughter. They're far too aggressive for his taste. It's a small part of the story that echoes when, for example, during one of Brunetti's classic musings, he notes why other people's prejudices sound far more worse than our own. And the realization disturbs him. He and Paola have serious discussions, there is serious cooking, the children are nearly grown and definitely their own people, and, as ever, Venice is an integral part of each character and the story itself.

The kind of a person someone is, despite status, career or goals reached, is part of the characteristic climax of the novel. Donna Leon excels at carving out small, significant moments of grace and dignity in addition to a clear-eyed look at political and personal corruption and other failings.

The Waters of Eternal Youth, as Brunetti looks into what happened to a teenage girl years ago, uses those small moments to create an enormously satisfying ending. And because it's Donna Leon, the ending is handled just right. What a marvelous book.

©2016 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Review and reprinted with permission

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