Sunday, February 1, 2015

About Face by Donna Leon

Image from tower

My latest delightful discovery among mystery writers is Donna Leon. This novel is part of a series featuring police Commisario Guido Brunetti. Husband of the literature professor Paola, son-in-law to the wealthy business man Conte Falier, and father of a teenage son and daughter, Guido and his honest colleagues must do their best in the midst of appalling official incompetence and corruption.

Reading about the challenges faced by Guido and his fellow characters is fascinating, terrifying and occasionally funny. Especially when seen under a dusting of snow, Venice is an irresistible setting.

But the real genius of this work is how the author makes the reader slyly complicit in judgments we like to think we have risen above. Reading the lines "her face expressed pleasant, permanent anticipation, fixed there immutably by the attentions of a surgeon," we have the woman pegged. The whole trope is in place, but we don't see its falsity till the end of the book.

Franca is the wife of a business man Conte Falier is considering as an investment partner. When his father in law seats Guido opposite her at a dinner party, he is impressed to discover that she has read Ovid's Metamorphoses, including passages he had long forgotten.

But there is something strange about the woman's face, far beyond the fact that she's had extensive plastic surgery. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers how she got that face.

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