The Girl of His Dreams by Donna Leon was one of two Comissario Brunetti mysteries I took on my recent trip to Italy. Though I did not make it to Venice this trip it was still fun reading a novel that takes place in Italy while in Italy.
The mystery at the center of this novel is a young gypsy (Rom) girl which allows Donna Leon to explore the lives of gypsies in Italy and their treatment by both Italians and the Italian government. The face of this young girl haunts Comissario Brunetti (hence the title) as he goes about his days.
There is a side story that involves a priest who is trying to divulge what he believes are the criminal misdeeds of another clergyman. Commissario Brunetti, always suspicious of the clergy is tempted to let it drop. Instead he pursues the matter in a truly Brunetti way involving both family and friends.
As always, Leon fills her book with local color and vivid descriptions of family, meals and corruption within the Italian government.
*Starred Review* Leon’s latest Guido Brunetti novel begins and ends with funerals—the first for Brunetti’s mother and the second for an 11-year-old gypsy girl whose body washes up in Venice’s Grand Canal. As he launches what he knows will be a fruitless investigation of the girl’s death, Brunetti is assailed by the ironies of police work in contemporary Italy, where corruption is rampant and where his boss, Patta, king of the bureaucrats, prattles on about multicultural awareness while trying to protect the well-connected from any exposure in the matter of an insignificant gypsy’s death.
But just as Brunetti is incensed by the way his peers ignore the marginalized members of society, so is he appalled by the callousness with which gypsy fathers groom their young children for lives of petty crime. More and more in Leon’s remarkably rich series, crimes have no solutions, and the problems of daily life yield no answers. And yet, as Brunetti reflects on his loss of the “capacity for instinctive trust,” we feel just that kind of trust in Brunetti himself, in the idea of a man overwhelmed by a malfunctioning society who soldiers on, doing what good work he can and finding solace in small moments of love and tranquility.
It isn’t much, but in lives bookended by funerals and filled with frustrations, it’s what we have. This series becomes less about crime and more about daily life with each new entry, and as it evolves, it becomes clear that Leon deserves her place not only with the finest international crime writers (Michael Dibdin and Henning Mankell, for example) but also with literary novelists who explore the agonies of the everyday (Margaret Drabble and Anne Tyler, among others). –Bill Ott