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Famous opera star Flavia Petrelli is back at La Fenice in Venice to sing the lead in Tosca. But she has brought with her an unknown admirer who has been turning up at her performances in various cities and showering her with vast quantities of yellow roses. Although she has not been physically threatened, Flavia is finding the obsessiveness of this fan unsettling and when she returns to her apartment after a performance to find another bouquet propped against her door, her unease turns to fear. Over dinner with her old friend Commissario Guido Brunetti, she tells him what’s been going on. At first he’s not too worried, but when a young opera singer in whom Flavia had shown an interest is savagely attacked, he wonders if there’s a connection…
This is only my second Brunetti book although it’s the twenty-fourth in the series. Apparently Flavia appeared in the very first book but I didn’t find it a problem at all that I hadn’t read it. This one works perfectly well as a standalone.
Flavia’s friendship with Brunetti is a distant one, enough for them to be glad to meet and catch up, but not close enough for Brunetti to really know about her life. In fact, most of what he knows he’s gleaned from celebrity magazines. The first few chapters are told from Flavia’s point of view, giving what feels like an authentic picture of the life of an opera star, on stage and off. She has a family – two children and an ex-husband – but her career means she is often on the road, and we get a good feeling for the loneliness she sometimes feels once the glamour of her performance is over. She can be over-dramatic at times, to Brunetti’s annoyance, and this can mean that people think she’s exaggerating. But Brunetti soon comes to believe that her fears are well grounded.
These books have a slightly old-fashioned air about them – no bad thing, in my opinion. Brunetti’s family life is a happy one and the interludes with them add some lightness to the overall tone. The depiction of Venice feels as if it’s stuck in a time-warp from thirty or forty years ago but perhaps Venice really is that out of date. Sadly, I’ve never been there. However, the way the police operate comes over as distinctly amateurish at times, with them having to find out how to requisition CCTV footage, etc., and the idea that the only person who can use the computer properly is the Vice-Questore’s secretary is surely unbelievable. However, the tensions between the various officers give an indication of how much this society is still dependant on patronage rather than merit. And Brunetti himself is a thoughtful detective, relying on brain rather than brawn to solve his cases.
There is a slight whodunit element to the book but it’s more about the why than the who really. The plotting is excellent and the characterisation of the main players is very strong. The pace is fairly leisurely, rather like the pace of life in Venice itself, but it never flags in what is quite a short book. And as it heads towards the finale both pace and tension ratchet up. In the last book in the series, By Its Cover, I felt the ending let it down rather. Quite the reverse in this one! A true thriller ending, as dramatic as an opera itself, it had me racing through the last pages as it came to an exciting and satisfying conclusion. Most enjoyable. I’m sure fans will love this one, and it would also be a good introduction for someone coming new to the series. If I ever get time, I’ll go back and read the twenty-two I’ve missed…
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Grove Atlantic.