Beastly Things (Guido Brunetti Series #21)

( 22 )

Overview

The twenty-first Commissario Brunetti mystery and Donna Leon’s biggest New York Times bestseller yet

It’s no wonder that Donna Leon’s latest mystery debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at number ten. The series’s tantalizing crimes, Venetian setting, and much-loved commissario are a winning combination that continues to earn critical acclaim and a growing readership around the globe.
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Beastly Things (Guido Brunetti Series #21)

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Overview

The twenty-first Commissario Brunetti mystery and Donna Leon’s biggest New York Times bestseller yet

It’s no wonder that Donna Leon’s latest mystery debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at number ten. The series’s tantalizing crimes, Venetian setting, and much-loved commissario are a winning combination that continues to earn critical acclaim and a growing readership around the globe.
            In Beastly Things, Leon lives up to her reputation as a writer unafraid to address the corruption underlying La Serenissima’s outward beauty. When an unidentified murder victim winds up in a canal, Brunetti travels beyond his usual sphere to find the connection between the dead man and a local slaughterhouse.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In bestseller Leon’s complex, contemplative 21st Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery (after 2011’s Drawing Conclusions), the Venetian police inspector must identify a man found stabbed to death and floating in a canal. Unusually, the victim suffered from a rare disease that disfigures the body and is linked to alcoholism, though the pathologist determines he wasn’t a drinker. Brunetti soon discovers that the man was a veterinarian, Andrea Nava, who also worked part-time at a slaughterhouse inspecting the health of the animals brought in by the local farmers. Despite his recent separation from his wife after a tryst with a co-worker, Nava appears to have been a compassionate human being. But when Brunetti visits the slaughterhouse and begins to examine how it operates, the inspector comes to some unsettling conclusions about the murdered man, the motive, and his own life. Leon deftly blends police procedural with philosophy and existential speculation. Her intimate descriptions of Venice, where she has lived for 30 years, lend color. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
The death of an inoffensive veterinarian takes Commissario Guido Brunetti once more into the heart of the human beast. Even after the victim is identified--and it's a good long time before he is--the name of Dottor Andrea Nava's killer seems less mysterious than the question of why someone, anyone, would have stabbed him in the back three times and dumped his body into a Venetian canal. Although he's estranged from his wife, Anna Doni, she faints from either grief or guilt when Brunetti and his friend, Inspector Lorenzo Vianello, break the news to her. Clara Baroni, his assistant at the Clinica Amico Mio veterinary practice, can shed no light on his death. And although his sad little dalliance with Giulia Borelli, Director Alessandro Papetti's assistant at the slaughterhouse where he moonlighted part time, may have threatened his marriage, it hardly seems a weighty enough motive for murder. It's not until after a tour of the slaughterhouse brings Brunetti and Vianello up against the horrid realities behind the meat they placidly consume every day that Brunetti realizes that carcasses aren't the most bestial presences lurking there. Brunetti, who airily tells his wife Paola, "I don't do ethical," spends less time than usual (Drawing Conclusions, 2011, etc.) butting heads with his nemesis, Vice-Questore Giuseppe Patta. But his conspiratorial dealings with his omni-competent assistant Signora Elettra and his suave attempts at acting dumb while he's questioning his few suspects are equally rewarding.
The Barnes & Noble Review

What a pleasure it is to greet Guido Brunetti each spring, when the Venetian Commissario di Polizia returns, pretty much like clockwork for the last twenty-one years, as trusty as a daffodil, if the daffodil also consulted the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius as if it were the I Ching. He is of a worshipful company of sleuths that includes Grijpstra and de Gier, Martin Beck, Gervase Fen and Wimsey, Cadfael, Poirot, even Spenser — each a man comfortable in his own skin, quirks, foibles, and all; they don't burden readers with their miseries, as some fictional detectives insist on doing (don't we have plenty of our own?).

In Beastly Things, Brunetti sets out to discover the identity of a murder victim who has been stabbed, mashed, and dumped into one of the ever-handy canals. But, as in many of Leon's stories, the procedural is a stepping stone to bigger problems undermining the magic of Venice: venality and greed, flourishing as ever, and here in addition the horrors of the slaughterhouse. Brunetti's own small band of merry comrades at the station are back in form: the broody Inspector Vianello and the chic Signorina Elettra, who lights up the Vice-Questore's office and conducts computer searches of amorphous legality. And the two from the dark side: the opportunistic obstructionist Vice-Questore and his junkyard dog, Lieutenant Scarpa.

Leon's mood, like Vianello's, is broody, too, and distracted. The dead man's circumstances flutter along, as if attaining critical mass were not an issue; there is a strange dithering over the victim's enlarged neck and chest, known as Madelung's disease, an illness of which you will never, ever hear again. Paola, Brunetti's sharp-as-a-tack wife, introduces a potentially juicy side story — an item about a colleague at her university who is a candidate for stealing rare materials from the library — that is also allowed to gutter out. What kicks up the dust is Brunetti learning that the victim moonlighted as an inspector at an abattoir. He and Vianello investigate the establishment and are undone by what they witness. This raises the opportunity for Leon to underscore our tangled relationship with meat eating and the kinds of nasty behavior the meat industry has gotten away with since long before Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Yet here it is happening in Venice, a place that Leon has always made shimmer even at the lowest tide. If that isn't metaphorical enough, seaweed is snaking its way into the city's most secret waters, an appalling, heartbreaking neglect that bodes ill for the city's future.

Then, into the malaise, come gladdening interventions: Paola with a lunch — tagliatelle with scallops, calamari with peas, crostada di fragile — which, after all, is only civilized and not to be belabored. And Brunetti trying to visualize in his head the location of the water door from where the dead body was dumped, a geography of the mind in the city he loves. Following him through it feels as intimate as if we were looking into his underwear drawer. It is a wonderful thing that taking such a perspective can, through Leon's alchemy, feel positively uplifting.

Peter Lewis is the director of the American Geographical Society in New York City. A selection of his work can be found at writesformoney.com.

Reviewer: Peter Lewis

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143123248
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/30/2013
  • Series: Guido Brunetti Series , #21
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 180,287
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Donna Leon,who was born in New Jersey, has lived in Venice for many years and previously lived in Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China, where she worked as a teacher. Her mysteries featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti include (in order of publication) Death at La Fenice, Death in a Strange Country; Dressed for Death; Death and Judgment; Acqua Alta; Quietly in Their Sleep; A Noble Radiance; Fatal Remedies; Friends in High Places; A Sea of Troubles; Willful Behavior; Uniform Justice; Doctored Evidence; Blood from a Stone; Through a Glass, Darkly; Suffer the Little Children; The Girl of His Dreams; About Face; A Question of Belief, and Drawing Conclusions.

Biography

Donna Leon's love affair with Italy began in the mid-1960s when she visited for the first time. She returned frequently over the course of the next decade, while working as a teacher in such far-flung paces as Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, England, Iran, and China. In the 1980s, the New Jersey native made the decision to move to Venice, where she still lives.

Leon's writing career began accidentally. One evening, following a performance at Venice's famous opera house, Teatro La Fenice, Leon and some friends were discussing a certain conductor they all heartily disliked. Someone jokingly suggested killing him off; and when the conversation turned to how, where, and why, suddenly the idea for a dandy murder mystery took shape in Leon's mind. Published in 1992, Death at La Fenice introduced Commissario Guido Brunetti, the melancholy Venetian policeman who would go on to star in a series of witty, intelligently plotted, and critically acclaimed detective novels.

Brunetti is, indeed, one of the most appealing characters in crime fiction, and one of the pleasures of the series is the revelation of new and surprising facets to his personality. Intellectual, introspective, and world weary, he is also happily married, totally committed to his job, and a lover of classical music, good food, and jokes. But, above all, Guido Brunetti is "Venetian to the bone" -- born into and shaped by a society filled with cultural contradictions. Through her detective's eyes, Leon illuminates the central paradox of Venice: Beneath the ravishing beauty and civilized veneer lurks a core of insidious and utterly pervasive corruption. Brunetti's cynicism stems from his inability to stem the tide -- although, bless his heart, he never stops trying.

Elegant writing, deft characterization, and lots of local color elevate the Brunetti novels above run-of-the-mill series, and Leon's reputation has grown with each installment. But although her books are international bestsellers, they have never been translated into Italian. The author explained why in an interview with National Public Radio: " I do not take any pleasure whatsoever in being a famous person. The tenor of my life would change if these books were translated into Italian, because I'm completely anonymous here." Anonymous in Venice, perhaps. Elsewhere, Donna Leon is a rock star!

Good To Know

An opera buff with a passion for baroque music, Leon has written the libretto for a comic opera entitled Dona Gallina.

For a few years, Leon reviewed crime fiction for the Sunday Times.

In Germany, several of the Commissario Brunetti novels have been adapted into television mini-series.

A woman of strong opinions, Leon reads voraciously for topical issues to use in her novels. Among the serious matters she has written about are industrial pollution, human trafficking, illegal adoption, and corruption in the Catholic Church.

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    1. Hometown:
      Venice, Italy
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 28, 1942
    2. Place of Birth:
      Montclair, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., 1964; M.A. 1969; postgraduate work in English literature

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 22 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2012

    Best Guido Brunetti book yet

    All of Ms. Leon's Venetian stories bring back only wonderful memories of Venice. This one tops the others with the a great murder mystery involving greed and power. Must read.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 24, 2013

    I was repulsed by the descriptions of the poor animals and what

    I was repulsed by the descriptions of the poor animals and what they did to them.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Venetian Tragedy

    There usually are three common elements in any Guido Brunetti mystery: The City of Venice plays a central role. Then there is the crime for the Commissario to solve. And, lastly, there is a significant social issue running through the novel. This, the 21st novel in the series, is no exception. A man is fished out of a Venetian canal, having been stabbed in the back. Brunetti sets off to find the murderer, and witnesses corruption on a massive scale among public officials and private business.

    Looking at the retrieved body, Brunetti has the feeling that he has seen the man before, recognizing his odd shape. Later, learning the man suffered from a rare disease causing his upper torso to enlarge, the Commissario remembers where he saw the victim, enabling him to identify the man. From this point, the novel essentially becomes a straightforward police procedural.

    Sprinkled throughout the story are Brunetti’s observations and philosophical musings, giving the book a certain flavor and embellishing his personality. Unlike previous entries in the series, however, it lacks the usual deep look into his taste for food and his wife’s ability to provide haute cuisine to a family of four (including recipes at the back of the book). It’s unfortunate because such information really spices up the novels. However, any Brunetti mystery is well worth reading, and is recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 26, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Venetian detective Guido Brunetti is faced with a baffling case


    Venetian detective Guido Brunetti is faced with a baffling case when a man with no identifying papers is found in the water but, with his usual cleverness and doggedness, he follows the few clues he has to put a name to the body. That turns out to be the easy part of solving this particular crime and finding out why he was murdered will lead to a far more extensive and alarming ongoing crime, one Brunetti may not be able to stop.

    Beastly Things has some positive things going for it, primarily being able to spend more time with our beloved Commissario Guido Brunetti, his family and his colleagues Signorina Elettra and Inspector Lorenzo Vianello, but it ranks as one of my least favorite books in the series. It seems much shorter than previous titles with short chapters and a lot of white space and I was disturbed by the attention devoted to a topic that’s related to the mystery but given more importance.

    I’ve been a big fan of Brunetti for years but this entry in the series has left me unsatisfied and a bit disturbed. Ms. Leon is known for addressing social issues of all kinds within the storylines but, this time, I felt the crime solving and the always-enjoyable family scenes were overshadowed by the agenda du jour, telling the reader what horrible things happen in the meat industry and, essentially, that we should all become vegetarians. I realize the books are set in Italy and that standards for treatment of the animals may not be the same as in the US but, all in all, I felt as though PETA’s objectives were the reason for this particular book. Yes, I’m a meat-eater and, yes, I know animals have to be killed for me to have that meat but the expose drawn by the author is too much. Chapter 19 should have a warning to the unsuspecting reader as it’s completely over the top and I almost stopped reading the book because of it. Also, when the reader is not being bombarded with this particular crusade, political corruption seems to be the fall-back position. The two themes become tiresome, topics to be endured in order to get back to the mystery that is meant to be the central story.

    In the end, and I mean the end of the book, the magic that is the author’s writing talent returns with her description of the murder victim’s funeral service and she had me in tears as she so often does. Will I read the next book in the series? Yes, because Ms. Leon is such a gifted writer and the crime-solving is always good. I just hope that, in the future, the author will take a less-determined approach to saving the world and devote more time and energy to Brunetti and his activities.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 12, 2012

    beyond great!

    Book #21 is Donna Leon's best! I keep saying that each time I read one of her Brunetti books, but I'm serious, this is the best. The 'cast of characters' never disappoints, and I'd have to say it's become another family for me. Suggestion: start with Book #1 (Death at La Fenice) and go forward. You will love every reading second!

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  • Posted July 2, 2012

    Didn't like it as much as the other books in the series. Ms. Leo

    Didn't like it as much as the other books in the series. Ms. Leon's causes are always evident but this book went too far. Knowing what was go to happen in Chapter 19, i skipped most of it. I want to eat the occasional meatball or steak......Not enough of Guido's home life. Still I'm looking forward to her new book that has a new character.

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  • Posted June 14, 2012

    only okay

    I love Guido Brunetti stories and have read them all. This one was one of my least favorites and it sounded like one I have read before. I don't see any reference to it being published prior to this. The story was really one dimensional, the saving grace were the times he was with family or those to whom he is "close" at work and his love of Venice. Maybe Ms. Leon is running out of ideas for crime in "crimeless" Venice. Maybe I will get it from the Library next time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2012

    Donna Leon does it again.

    Another great Guido Brunetti story. Leon is one of my favorite writers. Her stories keep you guessing.

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  • Posted May 3, 2012

    okay

    Short. Some editorializing. Authors now are using their books to advance their causes. They should be charged an advertising fee.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A new Donna Leon novel is something to anticipate, and finally h

    A new Donna Leon novel is something to anticipate, and finally having it to read means that one can take mini-trip to Venice and all of the pleasant things that entails. Beastly Things allows us that, and it also provides a very joyous funeral for a murder victim. But the rest of the tale is a modest one, not up to the previous novels in the series.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2012

    Recommend

    This is another great read by Donna Leon...

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 3, 2012

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    Posted October 26, 2012

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    Posted April 28, 2012

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    Posted August 16, 2013

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    Posted May 7, 2012

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