Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Jewels of Paradise

by Donna Leon, Atlantic Monthly Press, October 2012

 a story that is in no way riveting and very slow to develop

In this book Donna Leon leaves behind her highly successful Commisario Brunetti detective series for a standalone novel.  Dotoressa Caterina Pelligrini is a native Venetian who has left Venice to study and work in both Germany and England.  Her field of expertise is baroque opera.  She is lured back to her beloved Venice with a strange temporary job.  Two cousins have inherited two trunks from a long dead 17th century ancestor Steffani.  Steffani was a mysterious figure who composed baroque operas and worked for the Catholic Church in Germany during the Reformation.  Caterina is hired to translate the papers and determine if the inheritance should go preferentially to one of the cousins.  The inheritance itself is somewhat of a mystery that isn’t revealed until the conclusion of the story.

Unfortunately that is the full extent of this story.  There really is little or no suspense in the telling.  There is lots of discussion of a murder that occurred in the long ago past.  There is lots of description of what constitutes research as performed by a classical scholar.  There is discussion of baroque opera and of religion.  The operative word here is discussion, there is not much action.  The best parts of this story are when Caterina interacts with her family – a sister who is a religious and a brother in law who assists her when she is mildly threatened for her work.  As always with Leon the descriptions of Venice are excellent and one of the things that draw me to her books.  The story is liberally sprinkled with Italian phrases that are not translated.  While this gives great color to the story I can imagine it would annoy readers who do not have basic Italian language skills.   I did think the author was remiss in not annotating at the end of the story which parts were based on true historical figures and which were not.  I do read this type of book for the history so it would be nice to know what parts were true and what were fiction. 

So in summary I’d say read this book for the characters and the atmosphere and be prepared for a story that is in no way riveting and slow to develop.  My hope is that Leon returns quickly to the much loved Brunetti series.

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher.

1 comment:

Zibilee said...

I am not sure that I would like this one, especially because you felt that it was a little laborious and dry. I am glad for your input on this one, as I hadn't seen it around, and had no clue what the story was on it. Very balanced and fair review!