First a bit of back-story: Last year about this time when Donna Leon was in Washington promoting her latest Brunetti novel "Drawing Conclusions," someone in the audience asked her where she gets her ideas. So she told us a bit about the Brunetti novel she was then writing, which was this one. She said she'd seen a most unusual looking man on the street one day and later learned he was a victim of a rare condition called Madelung's disease. Then a little later at the dry cleaner's she spotted someone she'd known slightly many years earlier. Inspiration struck and in next to no time, a Madelung man would become her next murder victim, the physique and persona of the former acquaintance would attach itself to a prime suspect, and "Beastly Things" would take off from there.
"Beastly Things" opens at the morgue, with Brunetti looking at the newly arrived and odd-bodied corpse that had just been pulled out of the canal with three knife wounds in his back and no identification on him, while Rizzardi, the coroner, explains most interestingly the man's rare condition. It will then take quite a while for Brunetti and Vianello to discover who the victim was, but eventually they learn he was not a Venetian, but a man from the nearby inland town of Mestre. In short order their investigation will center on a slaughterhouse and what appears to be some nefarious goings-on there.
As longtime Leon fans will know, up until "Drawing Conclusions" the Brunetti novels all featured two concurrent cases. I really like this new cutting down of Brunetti's workload to a single case per novel, as it provides Leon with more room to get into our hero's ruminations about this and that, conversations with his wife Paola and partner Vianello and keenly observant descriptive passages about life in Venice. We also get a brief glimpse this time of a more human side of Patta as a father. And the two detectives admit to wondering whether all these "friends" Elettra counts on for inside information may really be pseudonyms for herself. But do they really want to know?
And, oh yes, Brunetti at last gets a computer and, as rarely happens after a Questura investigation, someone actually gets arrested.
Other things you might want to know:
1. * While their jobs require that Brunetti and Vianello spend all of chapter 19 witnessing what goes on in a slaughterhouse and emerging from that experience very shaken up, there is no good reason readers need to join them there. Unless you want to. It's not easy reading and nothing key to solving the crime will occur there.
2. Photos of people with Madelung's disease can be found via Google.
3. Later at that Washington appearance mentioned above, I asked Ms. Leon whether she was ever going to bring back Commissaria Claudia Griffoni, the only female detective at the Questura, who'd been introduced in "About Face" and was featured again in the next book after that. She said Griffoni would be back in the next one (ie this one). Unfortunately that turns out to be something of a stretch: When Patta hands Brunetti the Madelung man case, he tells him to partner on it with Griffoni; Brunetti reminds him that Griffoni's in Rome taking a course in domestic violence, so Patta tells him to partner with Vianello instead. And that's all that readers will hear of Griffoni in "Beastly Things." (Addenda 5/1/13: Maybe Ms Leon's idea of "next" and mine differ, as Griffoni does show up in a sidekick role in the next in the series after this, "The Golden Egg.")
4. Here's a chronological Brunetti book list, as of March 2013: "Death at La Fenice," "Death in a Strange Country" "Dressed for Death," "Death and Judgment," "Acqua Alta," "Quietly in Their Sleep," "A Noble Radiance, " "Fatal Remedies," "Friends in High Places," "A Sea of Troubles," "Willful Behavior," "Uniform Justice," "Doctored Evidence," "Blood from a Stone," "Through a Glass, Darkly" "Suffer the Little Children," "The Girl of His Dreams," "About Face," "A Question of Belief," "Drawing Conclusions," "Beastly Things" and "The Golden Egg." (Please note: Should you ever come across "The Anonymous Venetian," "A Venetian Reckoning" or "The Death of Faith" know that these are not new Leons; they're just the British titles of "Dressed for Death," "Death and Judgment" and "Quietly in Their Sleep.")
Note: The chronological list of Brunetti books inside the front cover of the hardback is missing the fifth book in the series, "Acqua Alta." Obviously a typo, as I checked and find it's still available in paperback on Amazon.