Promotion is slow in Venice, and the twenty-fifth book in
the Commissario Brunetti series sees our friend as
content with his lot as ever. The city's stinking canals,
used in place of streets, could hardly be called THE WATERS
OF ETERNAL YOUTH.
The novel opens with a familiar tune: Venice is under
threat from rising water, European grant money has been
stolen, politicians are corrupt, immigrants are increasing,
and the Ministry is trying to hack its own police officers'
e-mails. So far, so normal. Contessa Lando-Continui, who
lives in a palazzo, asks to speak to Brunetti. This lady's
family knew tragedy fifteen years previously, when the
Contessa's granddaughter nearly drowned. Young Manuela
was rescued but brain-damaged and has never recovered. The
Contessa harbors doubt that this accident was truly
Amid tender family scenes with his wife Paola and teen
children Chiara and Raffi, Brunetti investigates the other,
wealthier family. Manuela had been a keen horsewoman but
hated the water, making her near-drowning all the more
strange. Now she has a mental age of seven, and her horse
is out to pasture. Sinister moves occur when Brunetti's
investigation is known, with the murder of the sole witness
to the girl's fall.
Senior police officer Claudia Griffoni brings a welcome
splash of feminism to the story, and as it happens she was
a medalist in dressage in her youth. No better person to
connect with the retired horse. Autumn in Venice brings
rain and plenty of it; almost as much as the continued
flood of allegations of organized crime. Arrogance should
be a crime, some people believe, and if it was, plenty of
Venetian citizens would be under threat of arrest. We
follow the alternately jaded and principled Brunetti around
the gusty alleys and narrow bridges, picking up more gossip
than clues, trying to right an old wrong.
I'm a horse lover
so I enjoyed the thread of equestrianism. For once the
ending of a Brunetti case pleased me. All too often the
policeman is left helpless by entrenched corruption. A
minor character notes that Argentina makes Italy look as
clean as Sweden. German author Donna Leon holds our
attention firmly as ever in THE WATERS OF ETERNAL YOUTH,
lapping around the feet of her determined detective.
In Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti series, the Venetian inspector has been called on to investigate many things, from shocking to petty crimes. But in The Waters of Eternal Youth, the 25th novel in this celebrated series, Brunetti finds himself drawn into a case that may not be a case at all. Fifteen years ago, a teenage girl fell into a canal late at night. Unable to swim, she went under and started to drown, only surviving thanks to a nearby man, an alcoholic, who heard her splashes and pulled her out, though not before she suffered irreparable brain damage that left her in a state of permanent childhood, unable to learn or mature. The drunk man claimed he saw her thrown into the canal by another man, but the following day he couldn’t remember a thing. Now, at a fundraising dinner for a Venetian charity, a wealthy and aristocratic patroness—the girl’s grandmother—asks Brunetti if he will investigate. Brunetti’s not sure what to do. If a crime was committed, it would surely have passed the statute of limitations. But out of a mixture of curiosity, pity, and a willingness to fulfill the wishes of a guilt-wracked older woman, who happens to be his mother-in-law’s best friend, he agrees. Brunetti soon finds himself unable to let the case rest, if indeed there is a case. Awash in the rhythms and concerns of contemporary Venetian life, from historical preservation, to housing, to new waves of African migrants, and the haunting story of a woman trapped in a damaged perpetual childhood, The Waters of Eternal Youth is another wonderful addition to this series.