Trace Elements by Donna Leon Trace Elements by Donna Leon
Series: Commissario Brunetti #29
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press on March 3, 2020
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
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three-half-stars

When Dottoressa Donato calls the Questura to report that a dying patient at the hospice Fatebenefratelli wants to speak to the police, Commissario Guido Brunetti and his colleague, Claudia Griffoni, waste no time in responding.

“They killed him. It was bad money. I told him no,” Benedetta Toso gasps the words about her recently-deceased husband, Vittorio Fadalto. Even though he is not sure she can hear him Brunetti softly promises he and Griffoni will look into what initially appears to be a private family tragedy. They discover that Fadalto worked in the field collecting samples of contamination for a company that measures the cleanliness of Venice’s water supply and that he had died in a mysterious motorcycle accident. Distracted briefly by Vice Questore Patta’s obsession with youth crime in Venice, Brunetti is bolstered once more by the remarkable research skills of Patta’s secretary, Signora Elettra Zorzi. Piecing together the tangled threads, in time Brunetti comes to realize the perilous meaning in the woman’s accusation and the threat it reveals to the health of the entire region. But justice in this case proves to be ambiguous, as Brunetti is reminded it can be when, seeking solace, he reads Aeschylus’s classic play The Eumenides.

As she has done so often through her memorable characters and storytelling skill, Donna Leon once again engages our sensibilities as to the differences between guilt and responsibility.

I’ve read many of the Brunetti series, but generally out of order. I like Brunetti. He’s a reader and a thinker. He loves Venice, but isn’t fond of the heat and the tourists. He’s doesn’t approve of the corruption but realizes that to some extent it’s what makes Venice run.

In Trace Elements, Brunetti and Claudia Griffoni are called to the bedside of a dying woman. She tells them that her husband was killed because of the “bad money,” but dies before she can tell them more. With no real evidence of a crime, Brunetti and Griffoni start investigating, feeling they owe it to the dead woman. Their clues take them to a water testing lab where perhaps not everything is handled as it should be.

The plot was just complicated enough. Of course, we know that it was a murder, it always is in these books, and we know that with Brunetti’s perseverance and intuition, he and Griffoni will find the solution. But even when they know what happened, true justice is a bit trickier.

My favorite part of Trace Elements, like the rest of the series, is the characters. Brunetti and his wife, Paolo, have a wonderful relationship and I like the scenes of them at home resting or eating or talking. Signora Elettra is as awesome as always, clever and self-indulgent in a good way. Griffoni is relatively new to the series, but I like her so far.

I didn’t love the ending of Trace Elements, though. It was just too abrupt. Interestingly enough, I said the end of Beastly Things, #21, “left me a bit discombobulated.” And when talking about Through a Glass, Darkly, #15, I said “the end wasn’t resolved enough for me. I was left with a “that’s it?” feeling.” In the Girl of His Dreams, #17, the mysteries are “solved even if the resolutions aren’t entirely satisfying.” Maybe I just don’t like how she ends her books.

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.

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