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Author: Donna Leon
Publication date: 2006
Publisher: Arrow Books
* As they watched, he blew into one end of the iron 'canna', inflating the blob of glass at the other end. Quickly, with the grace of a baton twirler, he swung the glowing mass until it was just above the bucket and squeezed it carefully into the cylindrical tub, moving it up and down and slipping it around until it slid inside. He blew repeatedly into the end of the pipe, each puff forcing a halo of sparks to fly from the top of the tub. When he pulled the 'canna' out, the blob was a perfect cylinder, now recognizable as the flat-bottomed vase it would become.*
It is a luminous spring day in Venice, as Commissario Brunetti and Inspector Vianello take a break from the Questura to come to the rescue of Vianello's friend Marco Ribetti, who has been arrested while protesting against chemical pollution of the Venetian lagoon.
But it is not Marco who has uncovered the guilty secret of the polluting glass foundries of the island of Murano, nor he whose body is found dead in font of the furnaces which burn at 1,400 degrees, night and day. The victim has left clues in a copy of Dante and Brunetti must descend into an inferno to discover who is fouling the waters of the laggon...
Through a glass, darkly, is not a religious book, despite the obvious reference to the biblical quotation. It can probably be understood as in Shakespeare’s Tempest, where it is used to explain that we do not necessarily understand something at once, but that we will in the end. Or as a simple allusion to the island of Murano and its famous glass industry. This play upon words demonstrates once more Donna Leon’s talent for telling stories.
On a lovely day of early spring, Commissario Brunetti helps one of his assistant Vianello’s friend who has been arrested during an environmental protest organised in order to protect the lagoon from chemical pollution. Vianello’s friend is the son-in-law of De Cal, a glass factory owner who has been threatening him violently in the bars of Murano. Brunetti’s curiosity is aroused and he begins an unofficial investigation on that violent man who is disliked among so many other factory owners. However, what looked like unimportant events soon turns out to be significant: a man is found dead on Murano in front of a furnace… precisely in De Cal’s factory. As Brunetti is left to investigate with an old copy of Dante’s Inferno and coded notes left by the victim, we discover a rather dark side of Venice: pollution, politics and family tragedies.
The plot itself is well constructed and causes surprise, especially towards the end. At the beginning, there are several different stories which give a good introduction to the main themes of the books, although the reader has to wait for quite a long time until the actual mystery begins. From the Questura to Brunetti’s home, the story unfolds slowly, revealing many twists and turns. As it develops, we are once more amazed to discover how everything is connected in order to make a realistic and exciting plot.
As Brunetti is the main character, always true to himself, we mostly see the story through his eyes. Nevertheless, all the other characters are full of colours and well developed, be it his family, his colleagues or the victim’s relatives.
The description of the Venetian life also adds to the depth of the book. An important part of this local colour is the Italian names that can be found all the way through the book. The places are described accurately and so is the food, which shows us how important it is in Italian culture. With the Commissario, we are led through the streets of that wonderful city and on the island of Murano, where we discover the world of glass making.
Donna Leon also focuses on major current issues of Venice: pollution of the lagoon by factories, Italian bureaucracy, politics… If you are interested in Italian culture and like mystery, as well as well constructed and organised plots, and very human characters, have a try. Be careful though, as there are more than twenty mysteries featuring Brunetti and you may well end up becoming addicted to them.
Thanks to Mum for lending me this book and to my lecturer who recommended that I read Donna Leon's books.