By Its Cover, Hardback
3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


By Its Cover is the much anticipated twenty-third instalment in Donna Leon's bestselling crime series, where Commissario Brunetti is better than ever as he addresses questions of worth and value alongside his ever-faithful team of Ispettore Vianello and Signorina Elettra.

When several valuable antiquarian books go missing from a prestigious library in the heart of Venice, Commissario Brunetti is immediately called to the scene.

The staff suspect an American researcher has stolen them, but for Brunetti something doesn't quite add up.

Taking on the case, the Commissario begins to seek information about some of the library's regulars, such as the ex-priest Franchini, a passionate reader of ancient Christian literature, and Contessa Morosini-Albani, the library's chief donor, and comes to the conclusion that the thief could not have acted alone.

However, when Franchini is found murdered in his home, the case takes a more sinister turn and soon Brunetti finds himself submerged in the dark secrets of the black market of antiquarian books. Alongside his ever-faithful team of Ispettore Vianello and Signorina Elettra, he delves into the pages of Franchini's past and into the mind of a book thief in order to uncover the terrible truth.




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By Its Cover is the twenty-third title in Donna Leon's Venice-based crime series featuring Commissario Brunetti. The theft and vandalisation of antiquarian books from a prestigious Venetian library form the basis of this story, and while the staff suspect that an American researcher has stolen them, Brunetti doesn't quite buy in to this theory. As the investigation proceeds, Brunetti seeks to enlighten himself about the stolen books, it being the subject matter rather than the physical beauty of such rare texts that is the appeal. Events take a sinister turn however (albeit half way into the story before so doing) when one of the library's regular readers, an ex-priest, turns up dead, murdered in brutal fashion. As the story progresses, developments point towards the black market in antiquarian books and the involvement of more than one person in the thefts from the library.To my mind, the focus on antiquarian books, in particular the subject matter of the stolen books is likely to be the strongest draw of this story, but if only for bibliophiles. Missing for me was the usual mix of interesting characters and the interactions between them and Brunetti, also the near absence of Brunetti's family and the Venetian cuisine we have become so accustomed to. Add to this the sudden and for that reason the unsatisfying ending and this all adds up to, for me, one of Leon's least enjoyable works. That despite the fact that I might even be so bold as to consider myself a bit of a bibliophile!

Review by

One of the things I enjoy about the Guido Brunetti novels is the way that they introduce issues that are of concern to the citizens of Venice as well as the focus on the crime being investigated.Only a few pages into BY ITS COVER Brunetti is in a police boat on its way to a library where a theft has been discovered. Turning into the Grand Canal, there ahead of them is a huge cruise ship, perhaps eleven storeys high, with a wash that is causing waves to sweep over the landings and footpaths. This was an issue that hit the headlines in 2014 when cruise ships were first banned, and then when the ban was overturned by Venetian authorities because of the effects it would have on tourism.Other issues raised: Brunetti's father in law is investing his considerable wealth in companies outside Italy; it seems that the theft of the pages from rare books is only the tip of the iceberg, and that the case that Brunetti is investigating is one of a systematic looting of Venetian treasures; Brunetti questions what is most valuable in these books - their text or the pictures that illustrate them - and why people collect them anyway.This was an excellent read, certainly one of Donna Leon's best.

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