Transient Desires: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery (The Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries, 30)

Image of Transient Desires: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery (The Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries, 30)
Release Date: 
March 9, 2021
Atlantic Monthly Press
Reviewed by: 

“Transient Desires is a captivating, elegant novel that will delight Donna Leon’s many fans.”

Two young American women are badly injured in a Venice boat accident while joyriding in the Laguna with two young local men. The men are easily identified after the fact, but Commissario Guido Brunetti is drawn to the case by their evasive manner and their haste to flee the scene after dumping the women outside the hospital.

As Brunetti and his colleague Claudia Griffoni look into the matter, the questions begin to pile up. If it was only an accident, why did the men wish to avoid any association with it? Is there a connection to the business activities of one of the men’s uncles, a thuggish boatmaster who specializes in questionable cargo, often operating at night?

Collaborating with the Carabinierie and the Guardia Costiera, Brunetti and Griffoni discover a web of crime deeper than a mere boating mishap as their investigation, which begins as nagging curiosity, suddenly takes them into unexpectedly dark waters.

Transient Desires is the 30th Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery by Donna Leon, a series that began in 1992 with the publication of Death at La Fenice. Born and raised in New Jersey, Leon lived for 30 years in Venice, absorbing the culture and gaining an intimate familiarity with the people of this unique Italian city that reveals itself in her novels.

Indeed, the strengths of this novel and the series in general lie in her characters and setting. While Brunetti shows a tendency toward introspection and broodiness that reminds us somewhat of Georges Simenon’s Maigret, he also enjoys a rich family life that rounds out his personality and constantly lifts the mood of the story.

Meals are an important part of his day, investigations notwithstanding, and the fact that he routinely returns home to share lunch with his wife and his children (when they’re around), engaging them in conversations on many different topics, tells us a great deal about the grounding of his character and the moral center from which he operates.

While he’s a native Venetian and moves through the city with a familiarity that’s almost casual, he still steals moments to notice the beauty of his surroundings. While walking to work in the morning, for example, he

“ambled, delighting in the sight of the flags swirling about in the breeze, and the horses poised, front legs lifted delicately, gazing down the piazza . . . How wonderful they were, even if only copies, how bold and excessive, like so much within his line of sight.”

Just beyond, he “paused after passing the bell tower, and turned to sweep a panoramic look from left to right. Could a normal person see this and not be affected?”

Leon also takes the opportunity in this novel to explore Italian regional differences, most notably in a scene in which Griffoni plays on her Neapolitan roots while she and Brunetti meet with a Guardia Costiera official who’s also originally from Naples.

Brunetti’s negative reaction to her sudden affectation of a southern accent and her lapses into the Napolitano dialect reveal an element of bigotry that he instantly regrets when Griffoni becomes upset with him for it afterward. Although he apologizes profusely, he now must worry that he has damaged his relationship with his colleague.

Leon also, quite interestingly, draws on localized differences within Venice itself. While Brunetti casually speaks in the local Veneziano dialect when it suits him, he notes with disdain that the young boat driver and his nefarious uncle are Giudecchinos, from a lower-class neighborhood in the city notorious for its crime and poverty.

Additionally, Leon also touches on inter-agency reluctance to cooperate that will seem familiar to readers of American-based crime novels. It seems, she suggests, there may be more differences among us than things that draw us together. Resonant commentary in these trying times.

Leon’s writing style is often awkward, and her handling of the interactions among characters is sometimes stilted and unnatural. As well, her mystery is not particularly deep: the first two-thirds of the story are spent searching for a criminal offense, never mind the perpetrator.

Just the same, Transient Desires is a captivating, elegant novel that will delight Donna Leon’s many fans and attract the interest of readers who haven’t yet discovered this quiet star of international crime fiction.