Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries arrive with the regularity of holidays and are perhaps as eagerly anticipated. Trace Elements, the 29th Commissario Brunetti novel, appears just as the ink of its predecessor, Unto Us a Son Is Given, has dried.
Trace Elements finds the detective and his colleague Commissario Claudia Griffoni called to the hospital bed of 38-year-old Benedetta Toso, who is dying of cancer. Toso speaks in snippets: "It was bad money. I told him no." "They killed him." The "him" is her husband, Vittorio Fadalto: a week after Toso came to the hospital, Fadalto, a water distribution technician, died after his motorcycle was hit by a car. The detectives dig around and learn that Toso had been transferred to the hospital from a private clinic because she couldn't pay her bill. Had Fadalto been using "bad money" to keep her in the private facility? As Trace Elements proceeds, readers may have an inkling about the kind of wrongdoing that's afoot, but they won't foresee Brunetti's agonizing quandary at book's end.
The languorous pace of Trace Elements allows readers to meander with Brunetti through his life in Venice, as he travels by vaporetto, seeks insights from literary classics and grouses about the United States. (Donna Leon is from New Jersey, and now lives in Venice and Switzerland.) Brunetti jabs: "A dying woman put out on the street because she couldn't pay for the hospital. Where were they, for God's sake, America?" --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer