Death and Judgment is the fourth in Donna Leon’s popular mystery series set in Venice, featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. It begins with a truck crashing in the mountains of northern Italy near the Austrian border. The truck is carrying eight young women, who die in the crash. Then a prominent Venetian lawyer is shot to death on the train from Padua to Venice. Obviously, there is a connection between these two events, but we do not know what it is at first. Of course, Brunetti figures it out, but not before two more deaths occur. An accountant from Padua dies in an apparent suicide, and the murdered lawyer’s brother-in-law is also shot. At first Brunetti suspects the lawyer’s new partner, a Sicilian with possible ties to the Mafia, because he inherits the firm and he is having an affair with the dead man’s wife. But Brunetti soon figures out that something else is going on. His investigation leads him to the dark, horrifying world of human trafficking, prostitution, and the pornographic film industry.
Leon provides a sharp contrast between the grim world that Brunetti investigates and his loving family life with his wife Paola, a professor of English literature and gourmet cook, and his precocious teenage daughter Chiara. Many of the most compelling scenes in Death and Judgment are between Brunetti and Chiara. It turns out that Chiara knows the murdered lawyer’s daughter, Francesca, from school, so she decides to do some investigating on her own. She questions Francesca about who would have wanted to murder her father, as well as some classmates who know Francesca better than she does. Paola is not thrilled to have Chiara involved in the case, but Brunetti is proud of his daughter, who definitely shows signs of following in her father’s footsteps.
As always, Leon draws you into the everyday life of Venice and makes you want to go there. We do not see much of Paola’s delicious meals this time, but there is a scene where characters eat a mouthwatering-sounding fettucine with truffles at a restaurant. In Leon’s novels, the villains do not always get what they deserve, because they have friends in high places. I am not going to give away whether or not that is the case in this one, though. The subject matter, of human trafficking and forced prostitution, is all too contemporary, even though this novel was written in 1995. I highly recommend this book, even though it might not be the best one with which to start the series. The first in the series is Death at La Fenice. Also, readers should be aware that some of Leon’s books have different titles in the British and American editions. Death and Judgment has the title A Venetian Reckoning in the British edition.
Death and Judgment is available from the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.