Listening to David Colacci, whose lightly Italian-accented narration is always pitch-perfect, read a new Commissario Brunetti mystery is so enjoyable that it qualifies as a guilty pleasure, up there with a pint of Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip and one spoon. A Question of Belief is Donna Leon at her best, and therefore Brunetti at his, dealing, as he has for years, with the corruption that pervades Venetian bureaucracy and the judicial system, pondering the greed, need and passion that can lead to murder and malfeasance. It’s set in August, when the remorseless heat turns Venice into an open oven and the sun’s white glare blinds, when everyone, except the teeming tourists, leaves town. The Commissario has silently implored the powers that be to shut off crime for just a few weeks, so he can vacation with his family in the cool comfort of the mountains. But his entreaties don’t do the trick: A violent death in a ritzy apartment building, a strange suicide and the ongoing investigation of a smooth charlatan who victimizes old ladies all conspire to keep Brunetti on the beat in the broiling heat.
SONS AND LOVERS
Just before the car crash, Antoine’s sister tells him that she’s remembered something about their mother, about that last summer at the beach when he was nine, the summer before their mother died. The key to the secret that haunts Tatiana de Rosnay’s second novel, A Secret Kept, lies in that shadowy memory. The secret, a hidden, passionate love affair (I won’t say more) that listeners are privy to in tantalizing, flashbacks, surfaces as it intertwines with Antoine’s story. And it’s done so seamlessly that you don’t realize how involved you’ve become with Antoine, with his unwanted divorce and much-wanted ex-wife, his inability to connect with his own children and his difficult, domineering father. It’s a compelling portrait of a man, a Parisian of the haute bourgeoisie now in his mid-40s, who shies away from confrontation and overt emotion, who still mourns the loss of his loving, charming mother with a kind of sepia-tinged longing. A master of nuance, narrator Simon Vance conjures up Antoine’s intimate moods, melancholy, regret and the blossoming of possibility. [Read our review of the hardcover here.]
AUDIO OF THE MONTH
We’re in the Korangal Valley— “sort of the Afghanistan of Afghanistan: too remote to conquer, too poor to intimidate, too autonomous to buy off”—with the Second Platoon of Battle Company. It’s hot and dusty, with lots of tarantulas, no running water, no cooked food, no women. And it’s wildly dangerous. War, Sebastian Junger’s brilliant, eloquently spare, affectingly narrated account of his time embedded with the platoon from 2007 to 2008, is not about the moral implications of the war in Afghanistan or its long-term success; it’s about what it feels like to be a young man in combat, to endure excruciating boredom and anxious waiting and to feel the adrenaline-soaked exhilaration of lethal engagement. Junger explains, with pinpointed perception, how young men fall in love with combat, with the intense devotion to their comrades, with the sense of purpose and self-worth that “the ragged choreography of a firefight” gives them, why “one of the most traumatic things about combat is having to give it up,” and why it’s so hard for many to adjust to a seemingly dull and frivolous civilian life. Powerful stuff—and important, too.