The Girl of His Dreams

Nothing wears thinner faster than a crime series. Given that fact, Donna Leon?s 17th Commissario Brunetti mystery should be her weakest, for we know Leon?s Venice so well by now and we know Brunetti, his family, and his colleagues so intimately. Instead, The Girl of His Dreams is one of Leon?s best: a cunning, deceptively simple novel that exposes a modern nether world within her dreamy city. Brunetti?s introduction to that world is the body of a dead child floating in a canal. "Silk. It felt like silk. He latched his fingers around the strands and pulled gently?. As he backed up one step it floated closer, and the silk spread out and wrapped itself around his wrist." The girl was 11 years old, the daughter of a Gypsy or Rom family. Pathology reports reveal the presence of a sexually transmitted disease. "When he read the age of the dead child, Brunetti lowered the papers to the desk and turned his head to gaze out the window?. A pine tree stood at the far corner, some sort of a fruit tree a few metres in front of it, so Brunetti saw the sweet green of the still unfolded leaves outlined against the darker green of the needles." The girl?s story comes to the fore halfway through a novel that opens with the funeral of Brunetti?s mother, wonderfully rendered, and that also includes Brunetti?s investigation of a new Christian sect. Familiar themes recur (the power of corrupt politicians, of the Catholic Church, of the faded aristocracy), and familiar characters -- such as Brunetti?s pompous superior, his loyal subordinate, his omnipotent secretary, and his enduringly perceptive wife -- act predictably. Brunetti, however, has become more permeable and more interesting, as has Leon?s supremely entertaining -- and thoughtful -- fiction.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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