Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Justice deferred

It's been a couple of months since I reviewed an adult mystery novel mid-series, so I'm not feeling so guilty about listening to Uniform Justice, the 12th book by Donna Leon featuring the suave Venetian commissario Guido Brunetti. Brunetti is kind of a standard-issue Italian literary cop -- well- versed in the byzantine corruption endemic in Italian business, politics, military, etc. but scrupulously honest. Brunetti always gets his man, but his man is often able to circumvent the justice system and remain free.

(Other Italian cops I read and enjoy: Andrea Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano and Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen. Do Romans count? Lindsay Davis' Marcus Didius Falco and Steven Saylor's Gordianus the Finder.)

In Uniform Justice, Brunetti is called to an elite military academy to investigate the hanging death of a young cadet, Ernesto Moro. The school's administrators seem oddly uninterested in the boy's death, as are his parents, who ask to be left alone to grieve. Brunetti keeps pushing for answers -- aided by the genius of his idiot superior's administrative assistant Signorina Elettra Zorzi, who -- it seems -- can find out anything using her computer and her vast network of friends and relations. He uncovers attempted murder and government corruption, and figures out what happened to young Moro. As always, Brunetti's cynicism and despair are assuaged by his envy-inducing home life: a fabulous top floor apartment with a terrace overlooking Venice, two intelligent children, and the wonderful Paola -- who manages to put an incredible meal on the table at a moment's notice and teach English literature at the university level.

Venice and the Veneto, described lovingly and with wonderful detail, is a very important character in these novels.

I listened to a Brunetti novel several years ago, and -- when I checked my reading log -- I had the same complaint about that one as I do about this one, even though they didn't share a narrator. All characters speak in English (the novels are written in English) with Italian accents. The narration itself is in unaccented American English. Why? In this case, everyone in the novel is Italian -- there's no need to differentiate between characters' origins. Why would Italian speakers in a novel taking place in Italy speak with an accent (unless it was a Venetian, as opposed to a Sicilian accent)? Instead of sounding like regular people going about their work, everyone sounds like they were immigrant extras in The Godfather. I didn't like it one bit.

Which means that I really didn't like David Colacci's reading of the book, although I think this is a director's decision and it's not fair to blame him. He's clearly an experienced narrator -- although I've never heard him read before -- as he knows how to vary a novel's pace, and he is skilled at voicing characters. When I try to listen beyond Brunetti's mobster accent, I can hear an emotionally true reading -- Brunetti's public cynicism and private despair are quite clear in Colacci's performance.

Some things are better left unread aloud. At one point Brunetti and one of his young subordinates, Puccetti, are having a conversation. With the "Brunetti saids" and the "Puccetti saids" flying around along with the Italian-English inflections; well, it began to sound like a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. And not in a good way. I think I'll go back to eye-reading this otherwise outstanding series.

Uniform Justice by Donna Leon
Narrated by David Colacci
BBC Audiobooks America, 2004. 8:11 (unabridged)

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