The first aspect to be clarified involves changes of clothes in various sizes in the deceased's apartment and discussions with the Signorina Elettra suggest Altavilla was helping abused women escape their abusers.

Well, there's a motive, and while the disappearance of her most recent guest seems to offer an explanation, but closer examination reveals a reality that differs from what appears on the surface.

With that avenue seemingly closed, Brunetti turns his attention to the nursing home where Signora Altavilla volunteered in search of an explanation for the heart attack. She was, he learns, someone willing to listen to stories told by people who have little left but their own memories, and in such circumstances she became the sort of confessor who hears things people would keep concealed from members of their own families.

That proves to be the secret here, though in the end it's not the sort of case where Brunetti's likely to press charges.

These things play out against the familiar Venetian backdrop, with Leon drawing on whichever of the familiar elements fit into the developing narrative. There's only marginal room for Brunetti's aristocratic in-laws, though the connection turns out to be a key factor in solving the puzzle.

Brunetti misses his lunch on occasion, something the average reader wouldn't be doing if the dishes Paola prepares were visiting a kitchen near you, and the mealtime interactions with the family provide a stark contrast to the lunchtime scenes at the nursing home.

Against that backdrop there's plenty to muse on as far as the state of Italian society is concerned.

Signorina Elettra's electronic snooping isn't exactly ethical, but one suspects that if she wasn't doing it cases wouldn't end up being solved. Buying  flowers for the office and getting the Questra to pay by substituting a receipt for printer cartridges would be sailing pretty close to the anti-corruption wind in other jurisdictions but here, one suspects, if the substitution didn't occur the flowers wouldn't end up in the office.

There's nothing startlingly new in the twentieth tome in the series, but there's a niche-market familiarity that ensures that Leon fans will continue to track down successive Brunetti stories as they appear in the marketplace.

© Ian Hughes 2012