Earthly Remains

Because this was Venice, the police came by boat.”

If you have been lucky enough to spend some time in Venice, you will delight in Donna Leon’s series of (there are now 26) mystery novels about Commissario Guido Brunetti. It’s summer, a time to read something light, so I turn to read her latest, Earthly Remains. And what a pleasure it is.

Venice comes alive in her novels, the sounds, smells, lagoons, varporettos, gondolas and the piazzas. It’s almost as good as being there. In Earthly Remains, Commissario Brunetti is overwhelmed by the stress of his job and needs a rest. His wife, Paola, sends him to a villa owned by a wealthy relative on Sant’Erasmo, one of the largest islands in the lagoon.

He befriends the villa’s caretaker, Davide Casati, and together they row, swim and share meals with one another. They also visit the many beehives Davide has placed throughout the canals, only to find many of the queens dying. Davide sends samples to a woman on Burano who can determine what afflicts the bees.

After Davide goes missing in a storm, Brunetti begins searching for him, eventually finding his body submerged under his capsized boat with a rope connected to the anchor coiled tightly one of his legs.

Was it an accident, a suicide, or a murder? Davide’s wife had died of cancer a few years earlier and he has been heartbroken ever since. He has also been mourning the death of his bees. And then there is the mysterious scars on his back that Brunetti notices when they are swimming.

We learn that before Davide retired, he had worked for a scrap metal recycling company. I better stop here, for if I say much more, you probably won’t need to read the book. All I can do is give you a hint, although I know it is rather ambiguous--They knew what he knew and they didn't want that to be known. 

I know Earthly Remains is not the stuff of the higher literature. But it is fun. It is beautifully written. And at times, it is as perceptive as anything in the higher literature. Once you start, I doubt you’ll stop before the end.


Linda said...

"Almost as good as being there?" I love books that do that - in fact I'm enjoying a guilty pleasure of my own: I'm re-reading a mystery written years ago by a Kansas City lawyer, set in Kansas City during a prolonged heat wave. He has woven so many details about KC into the story that, yes - I almost feel like I'm back again.

No judgment here on so-called guilty pleasures. After all, when Wittgenstein needed relief from the rigors of his philosophical endeavors, his escape was Betty Grable movies and detective novels ("Wittgenstein's Poker").

After my Kansas City adventure, I'll take a spin in Venice via Earthly Remains!

Richard Katzev said...

Ever been to Venice, Linda? I sure haven't been to Kansas City. It's not even on my list of 101 Places to Visit Before I Die.

Linda said...

I've never been to Venice. I would love to BE there - it's the getting there that is a problem for me. There are so many places in the US that I have not visited. Sadly, I am not a good traveller, therefore not well-travelled. But change is possible.

If you have no connection to KC, then no reason to have it on your 101 Places list. I confess I'm still homesick, but I imagine that will fade with time.

Richard Katzev said...

My traveling days are over, but I've been lucky enough to have been in Venice a few times.

I'm glad I don't have to visit Kansas City, that's for sure.

I understand why you are homesick, but, yes, that will fade in time.

Richard Katzev said...


One more: Here is a quote I've always liked:

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.
Anatole France

Linda said...

I like that, Richard. It expresses beautifully how I am feeling.