Having just finished a novel about Venice, I moved straight onto another novel about Venice.
“Transient Desires”, the 30th in the stunning Commissario Guido Brunetti series, is every bit as gripping as the previous books, but it is but definitely a little darker.
Although Guido’s delightful family is still part of the story – ah, those lovely family meals – they are a less noisy, happy part of the narrative than usual. His charming in-laws do not appear at all. His trusty colleague Vianello also makes but a fleeting appearance, and the luminous Signorina Elettra is also less prominent than usual. Commissario Brunetti seems almost brooding and preoccupied for much of the novel.
Instead it is his colleague Claudia Griffoni who is alongside Guido as he investigates more of the city’s underbelly.
Two young American girls are seriously injured in a boating accident with 2 local young men, who drop them off at the hospital in the early hours of the morning and then speed away. The men are tracked down and questioned, and as Guido investigates why they abandoned the 2 girls, he is drawn ever deeper into the horrific business of illegal immigration and human trafficking.
There is no way of sugar-coating the darkness and horror of what Guido and Claudia discover, and neither the author nor her characters do so:
“Because we’d charge him with human trafficking, not tax evasion.”
So there it was, finally named, Brunetti thought: human trafficking. The merchandise originated, as it had centuries before, in the poorest parts of the world: Africa, Asia, South America – places on the borders of this continent. And the traffic still went back to the colonisers, to where the bodies would be put to use or work, doing what wealthier people could still afford to pay other people to do for them: grow and harvest their food, care for their old and their young, warm their beds and submit to their desires, produce their necessities and their treats.
Or, as in the past, he mused, they could simply be sold and thus become the de facto property of whoever was willing to pay the price and run the risk of possession. They could become household staff, field hands, sex toys, perhaps even organ donors, each step stripping off successive layers of humanity from both the persons and from the souls – if Brunetti could permit himself the use of this word – of their owners.each step stripping off successive layers of humanity from both the persons and from the souls – if Brunetti could permit himself the use of this word – of the owners.”
Venice is, as ever, an integral character in Ms Leon’s books, its beauty making even a native like the good detective sometimes catch his breath, and yet in this story Guido catches himself feeling ever more resentful at the taking over of his beloved city by the tourists from who the city derives so much of its income – even if it does involve visitors sitting on church steps eating spaghetti out of take-away boxes:
“Brunetti was of two minds: he felt a residual sympathy for the people who would lose income, but most of those earning the income we are doing so at his cost and the cost of the other residents: rents impossible for normal people, fast food on offer well once normal people could buy what they needed, masks, and blah blah blah. Brunetti had recently vowed no longer to enter into this discussion nor comment on tourism or cruise ships because there was no longer anything to say, add, proclaim, or hope. Like ‘aqua alta”, tourism came when it wanted, could be stopped by nothing, and would gradually destroy the city.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this 30th instalment of a truly wonderful series, but the overall mood definitely felt more sombre than usual.
But it felt right. We are all much more sombre these days.
One a little personal note: in the book, Guido muses about the horrors of the huge cruise ships that do so much damage to the city’s infrastructure and there is a surreal moment when a cruise ship sails past Guido and Claudia while they are in a meeting. While I was reading the novel, the news broke that cruise ships will be banned from the city.
That should give the lovely Commissario some comfort.