Books full of psychology and verbal sparring rather than action benefit from being listened to rather than read. The professional reader (or author) is able to use timing, pace, and pauses to bring inaction to life and invite you deeper inside the mind of the narrator. I found that David Collaci's reading of Blood from a Stone upgraded this book from a four-star effort as a personal read into a five-star listening experience through the unabridged CD.
The main character in Blood from a Stone isn't Commissario Guido Brunetti, but rather the city of Venice. If you know and love Venice, you'll add one star to your experience with this book or CD by being reminded of your great experiences there.
The book is a near-literary-quality novel, even though portrayed in a police procedural format. Ms. Leon is much more interested in having your think about what it means to be a good human than in intriguing you with her mystery and exciting you with her plot. The book raises fundamental questions about our connections to every other person on the planet, our colleagues, friends, loved ones, and family members. Although the book will seem preachy at times about one view or another, Ms. Leon leaves plenty of room for you to draw your own conclusions. But you'll definitely find your sensitivity honed as you think about more dimensions of relations with others . . . and their consequences for you and others.
As the book opens, two assassins stalk and kill an illegal street vendor who is a black African. The police don't rush to the scene and don't find any helpful information to identify the man. Commissario Brunetti makes slow progress through a combination of Signorina Ellatra's computer and persuasive skills, his own snooping around, and Sgt. Vianello's willingness to provide loyal shoe leather and silence. A visit to the abode of the victim yields more clues, but no identity. The clues raise disturbing questions that don't belong in a police investigation.
Soon, Vice-Questore Patta is telling Brunetti that he should go through the motions and not find the killer. The pressure to ignore the killing grows. Brunetti plays along while pursuing a hidden investigation that features his trustworthy colleagues, friends, and family in off-the-record activities. Why is the fix in? Brunetti can only speculate until late in the story.
The book's conclusion leaves Brunetti with an interesting dilemma, one that you should think about as though it were your own before you find out what Brunetti does.
The strength of this book is in its superb portrayal of the ambivalent attitudes and relationships among the illegal African street vendors, the police, the vendors' customers, ordinary citizens, and the vendors' landlords. Ms. Leon does a wonderful job of getting across the full range of perspectives and experiences. Ultimately, she wants you to decide what the crimes are and who the criminals are in the illegal set-up from a moral rather than a judicial perspective.
If, however, you just want an intriguing and fast-paced mystery, you'll wonder what all of the side trips into philosophical questions are all about.
on August 20, 2013
Donna Leon is a fine writer. Her detective, Brunetti, is a refreshing change from all the angst ridden detectives of other writers. And the food... You cannot help wanting to be right there in Venice, walking around with Brunetti and his colleagues and family. An immensely enjoyable read. I haven't found one of her books yet that I didn't love.