Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.
That there is a sense of déjà vu in About Face is immaterial; Leon’s mission is to expose the corruption behind the glorious façade of Venice and over sixteen books her protagonist, Commissario Brunetti, does just that. This detective is unique: lover of ancient campaigns and philosophers, of good foof and wine, he is a complex man who adores his native city while deploring her politicians whom he views with the same kind of contempt he holds for Rome and the Mafia.
The plot of this latest nvoel is simple. Garbage containing toxic waste is being off-loaded, first to Africa where governments demand payment for accepting it, the to China which will take anything, select what can be re-cycled and dump the more dangerous stuff in Tibet. The trade it too profitable to be left in the hands of the locals and the Camorra has moved north to take over: specifically a company transporting waste from a petrochemical plant near Venice. The unhappy contractor is murdered and the police have a suspect. Brunetti is approached for his cooperation; the investigator is shot but not before he has provided a photograph[h of the suspect. That man turns out to be affiliated to the Camorra; he is vulgar and violent but appears to have an intimate relationship with the wife of a respectable Venetian. This woman has had so much facial surgery that she is referred to as La Super Liftata.
After this novel newcomers to Donna Leon should seek out the earlier stories to discover how Brunetti has evolved. Always a wily man of integrity he has become more so and often, one suspects, speaking with his creator’s voice, as does his staunchly left wing wife, Paola. And no doubt are the children, equally opinionated, and of course Signorina Elettra: that elegant and enigmatic vixen who can work miracles with computers and men. Even Brunetti treats her as the Delphic oracle where Paola treads a fine line between resentment and respect. No one can draw a character like Leon.