Beastly Things by Donna LeonBeastly Things by Donna Leon
Narrator: David Colacci
Series: Commissario Brunetti #21
Published by Blackstone Audio on April 3, 2012
Source: Library
Genres: Mystery
Length: 9 hrs 20 mins
Format: Audiobook
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When the body of man is found in a canal, damaged by the tides, carrying no wallet, and wearing only one shoe, Brunetti has little to work with. No local has filed a missing-person report, and no hotel guests have disappeared. Where was the crime scene? And how can Brunetti identify the man when he can’t show pictures of his face? The autopsy shows a way forward: it turns out the man was suffering from a rare, disfiguring disease. With Inspector Vianello, Brunetti canvasses shoe stores, and winds up on the mainland in Mestre, outside of his usual sphere. From a shopkeeper, they learn that the man had a kindly way with animals.

At the same time, animal rights and meat consumption are quickly becoming preoccupying issues at the Venice Questura, and in Brunetti’s home, where conversation at family meals offer a window into the joys and conflicts of Italian life. Perhaps with the help of Signorina Elettra, Brunetti and Vianello can identify the man and understand why someone wanted him dead.

I’ve read several of the Brunetti mysteries, but not necessarily in order. Beastly Things was okay, not the best in the series and there were some things I missed. First and foremost I missed the food, the delicious meals Brunetti has, the desserts and drinks. They’re here, but not as tempting as usual. Of course, that probably has to do with the social theme she’s tackling in addition to the mystery. We have a look inside the food industry, at the slaughtering of animals and how the meat is deemed “safe for human consumption.” I don’t mind social issues in mysteries, but at times it can over-shadow the actual mystery plot. And the horrible scene at the slaughterhouse was not as disturbing as I thought it would be, in all honesty. But maybe I’ve heard too many horror stories before.

I like the characters as always and Venice is as a wonderful setting. I will say the plot held few surprises. I guessed who the killer was and was never really persuaded that there was another viable choice. Maybe the novelty of Leon’s series is wearing off. I know the people, the food and setting are wonderful, but it’s the same Venice. I need the focus to be a social issue I care about, and there does seem to always be an issue in her mysteries, or a plot that twists a bit more than this one did.

The narration was well-done. The characters were easy to distinguish and I didn’t feel there any jarring tones or “voices.” He just kind of blended into the story, which I mean as a compliment.

The ending left me a bit discombobulated. On the one hand, there is a very touching funeral scene. On the other, the whole food industry was just dropped. I’ll grant you that it was not in Brunetti’s job to be able to do anything about it, but . . I don’t know. It just felt incomplete to me somehow.

About Donna Leon

Donna Leon ( born September 28, 1942, in Montclair, New Jersey) is the American author of a series of crime novels set in Venice, Italy, featuring the fictional hero Commissario Guido Brunetti. In 2003, she received the Corine Literature Prize.

Leon lived in Venice for over 30 years and now resides in the small village of Val Müstair in the mountains of Grisons in Switzerland. She also has a home in Zurich. In 2020 she became a Swiss citizen. She was a lecturer in English literature for the University of Maryland University College – Europe in Italy and taught English from 1981 to 1990 at an American military base in Italy.

Her Commissario Brunetti novels all take place in or around Venice. They are written in English and have been translated into many foreign languages, but – at Leon’s request – not into Italian. The ninth Brunetti novel, Friends in High Places, won the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger in 2000. German television has produced 26 Commissario Brunetti episodes for broadcast.


  • I’m a fan of this series though like you I haven’t read them all nor necessarily in order. I love the idea of Venice, which is one of the main reasons I read the series, and the food and family and friends. The mysteries are more of the backdrop for me than the other way around. I’m sure I will read this one eventually, but it could be Leon is losing her steam for the series.

    Good review–the ambivalent ones are always the hardest to write, I find.

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