While a bit too slow to rank among her best, Leon's 13th atmospheric Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery (after 2003's Uniform Justice ) still offers many pleasures, including a clever puzzle. When greedy, curmudgeonly Maria Grazia Battestini is murdered, the Venetian police suspect her Romanian housekeeper, whom they shoot when she tries to evade questioning. The case seems closed until a neighbor returns from a trip, claiming the housekeeper's innocence. Hardworking, cynical Brunetti, devoted to his family, succulent meals and justice, an honest man in a corrupt police department, takes over the case. He finds that Battestini's several bank accounts were transferred out of Italy upon her death, the source of the money unknown. Brunetti suspects that her lawyer, Roberta Marieschi, and niece, Graziella Simionato, who shared power of attorney, were in cahoots and that the money came from blackmail. After several false leads and assiduous attention to detail, Brunetti discovers the key to the crime—pride, rather than greed, with the title a pun on the motive—meanwhile one-upping his workplace enemy, the ambitious, careless Lieutenant Scarpa. Leon evokes the real Venice, not the place of romantic novels or glitzy travel guides but the gritty, inbred city of dishonest politicians and hamlet-like neighborhoods filled with gossip. (Apr. 20)
Forecast: Uniform Justice was the #1 Book Sense 76 title for September 2003. Aided by a four-city author tour and Penguin reissues of earlier Brunetti titles in paperback, this one will keep up the momentum for Leon, who has won the Crime Writers' Association's Silver Dagger.