The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon – Review

Published by William Heinemann

Publication date 7 April 2016

Source – library copy

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“In The Waters of Eternal Youth, the twenty-fifth instalment in the bestselling Brunetti series, our Commissario finds himself drawn into a case that may not be a crime at all.

Brunetti is investigating a cold case by request of the grand Contessa Lando-Continui, a friend of Brunetti’s mother-in-law. Fifteen years ago the Contessa’s teenage granddaughter, Manuela, was found drowning in a canal. She was rescued from the canal at the last moment, but in many ways it was too late; she suffered severe brain damage and her life was never the same again. Once a passionate horse rider, Manuela, now aged thirty, cannot remember the accident, or her beloved horse, and lives trapped in an eternal youth.

The Contessa, unconvinced that this was an accident, implores Brunetti to find the culprit she believes was responsible for ruining Manuela’s life. Out of a mixture of curiosity, pity and a willingness to fulfil the wishes of a loving grandmother, Brunetti reopens the case. But once he starts to investigate, Brunetti finds a murky past and a dark story at its heart.

The Waters of Eternal Youth is awash in the rhythms and concerns of contemporary Venetian life, from historical preservation, to housing, to new waves of African migrants, all circling the haunting story of a woman trapped in a perpetual childhood.”

Fifteen years ago Manuela Lando-Continui was involved in a tragic accident, almost drowning in a canal. Left with life changing brain damage, she is left to go old with the mind of a young child. In the present day Manuela’s grandmother appeals to Brunetti to look into the incident, convinced that due to Manuela’s intense fear of water that she would have been nowhere near the canal. Sceptical at first Brunetti looks into the case, discovering a dark secret, and someone willing to murder to keep it buried.

It is always a pleasure to revisit Venice and Commisario Brunetti. It is one of the highlights on my reading landscape and one that tends to rarely fail to entertain and delight me. The Waters of Eternal Youth didn’t fail in either regard.

It is sometimes the case that in Donna Leon’s books the crime that purportedly drives the story often takes a back seat the characters and their tales. In this instance the crime and events that follow form an integral part of the tale and the characters are placed in the shadows somewhat. That isn’t to say that the story is lacking in character, far from it. All the central players are there, Brunetti and his family, Vianello and Claudia Griffoni and of course the incomparable Signorina Elettra, whose one-upmanship against the conniving Lieutenant Scarpa brings welcome light relief. The most effecting character is Manuela, who’s life now is one of perpetual childhood, aging as normal physically but with the mind and spirit of  a young child, the result of an incident that appeared on the surface to be a tragic accident.

The story pulls together well, despite the fact the that initial catalyst occurs off page and sometime in the past. The clues are well laid out, perhaps a little too well laid as I had worked out who the culprit was about half way through the book. During the course of the series there have been some novels where the ending is not clear cut, sometimes Brunetti is frustrated by the legal and political system and the retribution of the perpetrators is sometimes out of reach. In this novel however that is not the case and the ending sees Brunetti’s skills played out perfectly.

As with many of her novels, Donna Leon allows Brunetti to voice concerns about the state of Italy, of its politics, corruption, position in regards to Europe and immigration and of course, the effects of tourists on the housing market and the Venice of his youth.

There is something like comfort to be found within the pages of a novel that features characters a reader has seen mature and develop over a number of years. It is the comfort of the familiar, of the feeling of almost returning to old friends, and it is this feel that is apparent in this book and makes it all the more enjoyable to read.

As ever, I impatiently wait for my next visit to Venice and Brunetti.

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