Donna Leon’s novel ‘Earthly Remains‘ is the 25th installment featuring her Venetian detective Commissario Guido Brunetti. More than her earlier novels it concerns itself with crimes committed against the environment, its repercussions on the perpetrators and colluders as well as wide spread impact on the general populace.
A feigned breakdown to save the career of a colleague is attributed to stress and Guido Brunetti finds himself on a forced dream holiday, all on his own, in a relative’s villa. He spends his time on the small island in the Venetian Lagoon, rowing with the caretaker, reading in the evenings and sleeping soundly at night. This idyllic situation becomes a busman’s holiday when the caretaker disappears in a storm and is subsequently found dead.
The story lacks the usual ingredients of Brunetti’s life which add to the charm of Donna Leon’s books. There are very few family interactions and no descriptions of the fabulous meals that Brunetti’s wife seemingly effortlessly places on the table. We always wondered about that one until we concluded that if we were making the dishes she does and the amount of wine consumed and manage to walk off all the calories, we wouldn’t grumble either about the daily cooking.
Earthly Remains is basically a book which takes a meandering route through an assortment of crimes, though not all from the present day. And the different powers which people hold, whether money, information or influence that can so easily help them in remaining unpunished. As with any book concerned with crime, it is also about the short sighted and selfish nature of human beings vis a vis their personal gains.
As murder mysteries go, the book is not a very satisfying one but Donna Leon has become progressively more environmental with each Brunetti book. And we appreciate that. It is so very important that at least someone is talking about the rapacious harm being caused, even if it is within the pages of fiction. . The apathy of the general populace and the need to ignore what is happening around in the name of development and industrialisation, is prevalent across the world. After all it is easier to concentrate on the jobs being created and money being made rather than thinking of the cancerous substances in the air, soil and water. If we start thinking about all of that then what do we breathe and what do we eat and what do we drink?