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DEATH AND JUDGMENT

By Donna Leon

Penguin Books, September 2006 ($7.99)
ISBN:0143035827

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

On a winter day, a truck crashes on the highway and slides down a hillside. Rescue workers spot what they think are mannequins scattered across the snow. On closer examination, they discover that the bodies are human, all women, all very dead. They were apparently being smuggled into Italy to be forced into slave labor or worse.

Police detective Guido Brunetti is a complex character who is dissatisfied with his job and unhappy with the state of Italian politics. It's hard to know who can be trusted, or who is involved in corruption and deceit. He keeps on, however, because "somebody has to try" to solve crimes and bring justice. The Venice in his world is not the colorful version the tourist sees, but a dark, grimy and often dangerous city. When he gets involved with the human trafficking case, he has yet more reason to be unhappy with the state of the legal system in his country.

Brunetti uses his wife Paola, a university professor, and his children as sounding boards. In what he later realizes is a big mistake, he involves his daughter in a case he is investigating, asking her to get information from a schoolmate whose father may be involved in a white slavery ring. His actions set in motion events that are psychologically devastating to his child. He decides then to resolve the case, no matter whose toes get stepped on, and no matter what it might do to his career.

Once again, Leon has written a fascinating, if gloomy, picture of Italian life and culture.

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