The Jewels of Paradise

Donna Leon. Atlantic Monthly, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2064-9
Taking something of a gondolier’s holiday from her popular Commissario Guido Brunetti procedurals (Beastly Things, etc.), bestseller Leon debuts a stand-alone. Opera expert Caterina Pellegrini, who’s been teaching in Manchester, England, returns home to Venice to accept an unorthodox assignment: researching the contents of recently discovered trunks believed to have belonged to a once renowned baroque composer, Agostino Steffani, who was also a bishop and a diplomat, so that his avaricious descendants can divide the estate. A more compelling mystery for the musicologist, however, concerns what lessons Steffani’s life might offer as she wrestles with her own future. Despite the intriguing setup, Leon uncharacteristically fails to mine the premise for maximal emotion. There’s too much obscure historical detail relative to the development of Steffani’s character, lesser figures change arbitrarily to suit the plot’s convenience, and finally, out of the blue, there’s a slapdash deus ex machina ending. Consider this one a paradise lost. Agent: Diogenes Verlag AG. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/13/2012
Release date: 10/01/2012
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