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A Question of Belief, By Donna Leon

Donna Leon's elegant crime novels enjoy great success in various translations throughout the world. But, ironically, there is one country where they are not rendered into the native tongue: Italy, the stamping ground of her wily Commissario Brunetti. The reason? Italy is also the adopted country of Leon herself, an American expat who feels that the endemic corruption her copper encounters would seem provocative from an incomer.

Not that she's any more confrontational than native crime writers in Italy when it comes to the government of Berlusconi. As well as government scandals, Italy is in the throes of another brouhaha involving years of cover-up: the problems of the Catholic Church. Intriguingly, Leon's 19th Brunetti novel, A Question of Belief, folds into its plot both topical elements: corruption involving supernatural belief, and a self-serving establishment bending the law to its own ends.

Venice is suffering a heat wave, and Brunetti is yearning to leave for the mountains. His colleague Vianello has no thoughts of escape; his aunt, obsessed with the supernatural, is withdrawing massive amounts of money from the family coffers. Vianello asks Brunetti for permission to investigate, and discovers that the recipient is one Stefano Gorini. Who is this man? At the same time, Brunetti learns that there are discrepancies at the courthouse concerning Judge Luisa Coltellini and an usher, Fontana.

While Brunetti is on holiday, Fontana is savagely murdered. Does his death have something to do with double-dealing at the courthouse and alleged misconduct on the bench, where case postponements are being used to cover up sleaze? In 1940s Hollywood, censorship forced film-makers to use nuance to convey to adult audiences what was going on. In some ways, Leon uses the same strategy: multi-lingual Italians do read her books. On the surface, this is another entry in a reliable series. But it also obliquely addresses the issues of legal gerrymandering, faith and corruption that bedevil Leon's adopted country.

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