In this superb novel, Leon's latest in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series (A Noble Radiance, etc.), the Venetian police detective and family man is summoned to the exclusive San Martino Military Academy, where Cadet Ernesto Moro has been found dead, hanging in the lavatory. The other cadets and the academy brass give a chilly reception to any "civilians" who trespass into their midst, including the Venetian police. Believing Cadet Moro was the victim of homicide rather than suicide, Brunetti traces a sinister trail that leads to the dead boy's father, a doctor-turned-politician who once revealed then ducked the ramifications of a military procurement scandal. This is not the Venice of Thomas Mann or Henry James—the palazzos, gondoliers and Doges' monuments are all but overlooked. Leon's city is winter-cold and gray, with corruption rather than gilt glinting through the fog, and a culture in the grip of a Kafkaesque bureaucracy that runs on secrets and bribes. Humane and intelligent, a good man working in an impossible system, Brunetti displays an acerbic, economical wisdom. The plot flows along like the Adriatic tide through a narrow canal—swift, none-too-clean and inevitable. This is an outstanding book, deserving of the widest audience possible, a chance for American readers to again experience a master practitioner's art. (Sept. 29)
Forecast:A 50,000-copy first printing and a $75,000 promotional budget, plus a contest aimed at booksellers and librarians for a free trip for two to Venice, will help raise the profile of an author who hasn't been published in the U.S. since 1996. European reviewers consistently put Leon in the same class as Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith, and American critics should start doing the same.