cover image By Its Cover

By Its Cover

Donna Leon. Atlantic Monthly, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2264-3

In bestseller Leon’s elegant 23rd Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery (after 2013’s The Golden Egg), a Venetian library director reports that several valuable old books have been either stolen or damaged. The likely thief and vandal masqueraded as an American professor, but he has vanished, and his credentials prove false. With few leads, Brunetti turns to a potential witness—a library patron and former priest dubbed Tertullian (after the early Christian author) by the staff because he spends his days reading the church fathers’ works. Before the police can interview him, the seemingly innocuous Tertullian is brutally murdered—and Brunetti discovers some of the stolen volumes in his home. This character-driven novel looks at the ravages of rare book theft on libraries, and, more broadly, the destructive effects of contemporary greed—exemplified by cruise ships damaging Venice’s fragile waterways—on cultural heritage. Leon’s skillful evocation of the city’s charms, culture, and history more than compensates for an abrupt ending that might leave some readers unsatisfied. (Apr.)