Guido Brunetti and his family represent what we would like to believe are the values of families everywhere. He and Paola have raised Raffi and Chiara to take responsibility for their city, their country, and the world at large. But Brunetti is a realist. It can be difficult to do his job properly and to raise his children with the right values in the political atmosphere that has plagued Italy for so long.
In ABOUT FACE, Guido ponders this difficulty in the light of Chiara’s comments about Italy’s inability to enforce laws regarding air pollution. “Brunetti had loved this child from the instant he learned of her existence, since the moment Paola told him she was expecting their second child. All of that love stood between Brunetti and the temptation to tell her that they lived in a country where nothing much ever happened to anyone who broke the law.” This is the theme that runs through this 18th book in Donna Leon’s Brunetti series. The title of the book evokes the story.
The book opens with a dinner party at the home of Paolo’s parents. Guido is seated next to the wife of a colleague of Conte Falier, Paola’s father. Franca Marinello shares Guido’s interest in the Classics and he enjoys their conversation about Cicero and Virgil. But he is most captivated by her face, a face showing the scars of the kind of cosmetic surgery generally found on the faces of women in their 70’s, not a woman in her 30’s. Guido also finds himself drawn into the same problem that had brought Naples to its knees when Paola’s father asks him to check the background of Marinello. Franca’s husband has asked Conte Falier to invest with him in a project with the Chinese. The Camorra, a Neapolitan version of the Mafia, has taken over the removal and disposal of waste and garbage, and the gangs and the unions have fought each other to a standstill in the south of Italy where streets are blocked by trash and decaying food is left uncollected.
When the body of an informant is found near a waste treatment center, Guarino, an officer of the carabinieri, comes to Guido asking for help in determining the identity of the body. Brunetti is faced with indisputable proof that the Camorra is moving into Venice and little can be done to prevent it.
The Camorra, a Neapolitan version of the Mafia, has taken over the removal and disposal of waste and garbage, and the gangs and the unions have fought each other to a standstill in the south of Italy where streets are blocked by trash and decaying food is left uncollected. Guido finds himself drawn into the worst of Italian problems: how to solve a crime when the criminals are protected by the highest officials in government.
The meaning of “face” has many interpretations. “About face” suggests returning to the place from which one has already come. “Showing one’s face” is revealing identity. “Facing up to a situation” is accepting reality. Applied to organized crime, about face suggests that the successes Italy has had against the Sicilian-based Mafia are meaningless as the Camorra has implemented even more horrifying activities against innocent people who get in their way. Brunetti and Guarino have to face the difficulty of working together when neither is sure the other can be trusted. Venice, a city with little serious crime, is about to be faced with the crimes that have for so long been thought to be a problem for the less sophisticated south. And, there is Franca’s face. How did this women allow someone to erase her face and replace it with a mask.
ABOUT FACE is personal and political. The cracks on the face of the figure disguise its beauty. Denying the reality of Italy’s problems with waste, a problem shared by every country in the western world, can deny Italy a safe environment into the future. In the story, the beauty of a real woman is destroyed just as organized crime and greed destroy the beauty of the country. Donna Leon, for the eighteenth time, has written a book of which there can never be too many. Guido, Paola, their children, the irreplaceable Signorina Elettra, and even Vice-Questore Patta, are integral parts of this fantastic series.
***The Camorra is real. The Mafia had paid lip service to the code that kept women and children out of their business and their reprisals. The Camorra feels no such obligations. Children are recruited as drug and gun runners; the Camorra knows the Italian police would hesitate to shoot a child. They have no such hesitation. Gun fights are fought in the middle of the day, in the middle of the street without thought to who is likely to be killed. Roberto Saviano has written a book about the Camorra entitled GOMORRAH. Saviano, a native of Naples, saw his first murder when he was 13. He infiltrated the Camorra and investigated its spread into drugs, construction, Italy’s fashion world, and waste treatment. Since the publication of the book, he has been living somewhere outside of Italy, in witness protection. GOMORRAH is an excellent telling of the nightmare that has taken over Naples.