Friday, September 28, 2012

The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon

I've long been a fan of Donna Leon's best-selling mystery novels set in Venice with her endearing Commissario Guido Bruentti.  I leapt at the chance to review Leon's new standalone novel, The Jewels of Paradise.

Like the Bruentti novels, The Jewels of Paradise is set in present day Venice and revolves around a mystery of sorts.  Caterina Pellegrini is a native Venetian who has numerous degrees and expertise in Baroque music.  She's pursued her career abroad and established a reputation as a researcher.  She accepts a short term research project in Venice but the job she's taken is shrouded in mystery and brings her in contact with strange characters.

On its face, the project is straightforward.  Caterina is asked to examine the contents of two ancient trunks and to determine who has a better right to the contents and any additional inheritance that might come from a largely forgotten baroque composer.  The two claimants are distant relations and natives of Venice with slightly unsavory reputations.  The composer's identity is kept a secret from Caterina until the day that she's selected and allowed access to the trunks.

Caterina's research takes her to stories of a notorious affair, a murder, rivalries, betrayal and mention of treasure.  There are ties to the Protestant Duke of Hanover, countess, and the Queen of Prussia.  But Caterina's investigation into the past somehow seems to spill over to the present as she begins to worry about her personal safety.  

More than anything, The Jewels of Paradise strikes me as a novel that pays homage to Venice and the art of music.  Unfortunately, I'm not well versed in music or Italian, so I didn't fully appreciate the nuances of the language or the plot.  Donna Leon does give her main characters a sense of humor, an appreciation of food and the beauty of Venice - all of which give the story a certain charm and pace.   I'd recommend The Jewel of Paradise for aficionados of music and Italy and of cerebral mysteries.  While I enjoyed The Jewels of Paradise, I much prefer Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Bruentti novels with a clear dead body, crime, and the pursuit of the criminal.  

ISBN-10: 0802120644 - Hardcover $26.00
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (October 2, 2012), 256 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program and the publisher.

About the Author:
A New Yorker of Irish/Spanish descent, Donna Leon first went to Italy in 1965, returning regularly over the next decade or so while pursuing a career as an academic in the States and then later in Iran, China and finally Saudi Arabia. Leon has received both the CWA Macallon Silver Dagger for Fiction and the German Corrine Prize for her novels featuring Commisario Guido Brunetti. She lives in Venice.

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