Through a Glass Darkly is Donna Leon’s 15th book about Commissario Guido Brunetti in Venice. I have this thing about reading books in order, so I have had to force myself through this book, even though it is very, very boring.
126 pages goes by before a crime is committed and that is way too long. Most readers have quit by then. A crime novel needs momentum and this doesn’t have that. Half way through the book I just wished it was over and then someone had just been murdered. The book does not pick up speed after that either though. Not that Brunetti novels ever do, but when the story has no intrigue to push it along,…
Lieutenant Lorenzo Vianello, asks Brunetti, on the first day of spring, to go to the mainland, to help a friend of his. This friend, Marco, was arrested with others for violence at a demonstration. When the two arrive, Marco is about to be released without a charge. But coming out of the police station, they run in to Marco’s father-in-law, De Cal, who calls everyone a bastard and has a temper out of this world.
At a later date, Brunetti together with his wife Paola, runs in to Marco and his wife Assunta, at an exhibition and not long after that, Assunta seeks him out, asking him to do an inofficial investigation, of threats her father has made, against her husband. Her father having been totally against the marriage, saying that Marco only married her for her money, has now according to witnesses threatened to kill Marco.
Brunetti likes to escape his office, so he goes around, trying to talk to people who have heard the threats, but everyone tells him that the man was drunk and did not mean anything by it. During this investigation, which has not been approved by Patta, his suspicious boss, Brunetti has to talk to the night-watchman at De Cal’s glass factory. This is a man with a grudge. Two years earlier, his wife was pregnant. But it was against his convictions, for her to have proper anti natal care and he made her give birth to twins at home,even though doctors had told the couple that she needed a C-section. Child number one came out no problem, but the second one got caught and before they got the mother to the hospital and the baby delivered, the baby had suffered brain damage from lack of oxygen. Tassini, the father, refused to accept that the fault was his and his wife’s, and claimed that his genes had been altered at work, because of pollution and/or chemical waste, and that this caused faulty genes in his daughter.
On page 126, Bruntetti gets an early phone call. Tassini is dead, laying in front of one of the furnaces in De Cal’s glass factory on Murano. Cause of death, heart attack due to dehydration. He had been laying in front of the hot furnace for hours. One would have thought that a murder investigation now takes place and the speed picks up, but it doesn’t. As a matter of fact we never find out what happened to Tassini because Vice-Questore Patta says there is no case, he died of a heart attack and that is it. Brunetti will not leave the fact that Tassini was on to something, which his wife said made him afraid for his life. She handed Brunetti some papers that he can not make any head or tales of.
Trying to blame his daughter’s retardation on someone else than himself, made Tassini dig in to the waste from two factories laying right beside each other. He was the night guard at both and his papers refer to laws on waste disposal, Dante’s inferno when he describes the colour of hell’s water and some coordinates, that leads Brunetti and his driver Foa, to a waste land between De Cal’s and Fasano’s factories. Fasano, being a man with political ambitions, a man who “pretends” being all environment conscious and who is also someone who wants to buy De Cal’s factory.
The waste land is a regular marsh, full of water, and when Brunetti gets Patta to test the water, it is proved that the factories, in order to save money, let their waste go out in to the lagoon instead of having a plumbing company come fetch it. De Cal admits to it all, while Fasano blames his father and grandfather, claiming he knew nothing. Brunetti knows that Fasano was more acquainted with Tassini than he admits, but Patta will not let Brunetti go down that road.
The book ends with Brunetti, during a casual conversation with his driver, finding out that Fasano was not out-of-town, when Tassini died, as he claimed. As a matter of fact he talked to him on the phone just shortly before Tassini died and Fasano was caught on the ferry, on his way to Murano, without a ticket that night. Once again trying to save some money. In other words, his alibi is gone and there is a connection between his political ambitions, Tassini’s findings about the waste and Tassini’s death. That is where the book ends! With a big question mark.
A very , very weak plot from Donna Leon and a total waste of a book!