BY ITS COVER is Donna Leon’s 23rd Commisario Brunetti mystery novel and it follows the series’ tradition of immersing the reader in today’s Venice. The mystery revolves around a crime rooted in Italy’s ancient classics yet the country’s modern problems of corruption and over-bureaucracy are key to the plot.
The director of a privately-funded library full of rare and antique classic volumes discovers that books have been pillaged–drawings have been sliced out, rare illuminations taken. When Brunetti investigates, it appears that some books are missing from the library’s inventory. The culprit appears to be an American professor who has been doing research there for several weeks. Alas, he has disappeared, his bona fides are revealed to be false, and the criminal appears to have gotten away with his crime.
Related post: Book Review: THE GOLDEN EGG by Donna Leon
Yet there are other leads for Brunetti to follow. The library owes much of its livelihood to an important patroness, affording Brunetti the opportunity to have a deep conversation about the value of books. The conversation doesn’t necessarily move the plot forward, but serves as a platform for an issue that Leon obviously feels deeply about.
BY ITS COVER refers to apparently real episodes of book looting and subsequent closure of libraries in Italy. Literary and national treasures are being lost in this way, and through Brunetti’s conversations, we understand what a huge loss to humanity this is.
While BY ITS COVER isn’t the most gripping Brunetti mystery, it may be the one with the most important message. As Brunetti slowly gropes toward a resolution to the library thefts, the familiar cast of the series’ characters both help and hinder. Vice Questore Patta plays his usual oversight role and his self-serving attitudes and political concerns remain as deliciously crass as always. Brunetti’s wife Paola and Patta’s secretary Elettra both assist in their own ways, while the faithful Inspector Vianello is still the able sounding board as Brunetti pieces together the elements of the case.
Related post: Book Review: THE BAT by Jo Nesbo
Many of the more recent Brunetti mysteries refer to Italy’s political corruption and this one sustains the trend. Leon’s characters are uncomfortable speaking on the telephone, sure their conversations are being overheard. Nearly everyone has caustic remarks to be said about the inefficiency of government and the dishonesty of politicians. If you’ve read anything about the Berlusconi years, it isn’t surprising. The books only ring with greater authenticity for it.
More from the blog
A few days ago I got an email from Josh Gaynor, a producer for the CBS show 48 Hours. He had run across my short story “The Angler” about the 2007 murder of Father Richard Junius in Mexico City. Father Richard was the pastor of Saint Patrick’s Church when I was...read more
43 MISSING, the latest Detective Emilia Cruz novel, is fiction but is based on a true, unsolved crime. A big, terrible, words-fail-me unsolved crime. 43 Missing In September 2014, forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School disappeared while in...read more
43 MISSING, Detective Emilia Cruz Book 6, is available to pre-order at the discount price of $1.99 for Kindle. The preorder price will be in effect until Thursday 16 November when the book is published. If you preorder the Kindle version, it will appear on...read more
Be an Influencer
Write book reviews that matter with the 5 Sentence Book Review Cheatsheet
Get the downloadable PDF Book Review Cheatsheet, complete with simple outline, instructions, and an example to follow.
Learn the basics of fast, influential reviews
I'm author Carmen Amato. I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco. Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat. More