Sunday, April 13, 2014

By Its Cover by Donna Leon

By Its Cover: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon --- 237 pages

One afternoon in early spring, Brunetti takes a call from Patrizia Fabbiani, the director of the Biblioteca Merula, a small, private library in Venice. She has just discovered that someone has razored pages of illustrations from a number of valuable rare books, and a yet unknown number of books are missing completely from the library's collection.

Brunetti goes to investigate, and is told by Dottoressa Fabbiani, and one of her assistants, Piero Sartor, that all of the damaged books had been recently requested by a visiting American scholar, a Professor Joseph Nickerson of the University of Kansas. The first damaged book was discovered after Nickerson suddenly left the building, when Sartor went to clear away and reshelve the books that he had asked to see.

Only one other person had been in the reading room that day; a former priest, Aldo Franchini, an elderly, reclusive man who came almost daily to read the Fathers of the Church in Latin. When Brunetti investigates Nickerson's credentials he is not surprised to discover that they are forged. He learns that there is a thriving black market for rare books, and the illustrations from rare books. Further inquiry reveals that similar thefts have occurred in a number of other libraries.

The library director does not want the thefts to become public because some of the books that were vandalized or stolen were donated to the library by a wealthy and eccentric Venetian contessa (who happens to be a good friend of Brunetti's mother-in-law). The director is afraid that the Contessa will withdraw her patronage and support from the library.

The investigation seems to be at a standstill when Brunetti is notified that Franchini has been found brutally murdered in his home. At first Brunetti wonders if Franchini was murdered because he was an accidental witness to the vandalism and theft at the Merula. But a conversation with the dead man's brother puts him in possession of evidence that gives a whole new twist to the case, requiring Brunelli to look at everything and everyone in a different light.

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