Library crime

Bookhounders will know that I have a slightly awkward relationship with Donna Leon. I started out by loving all her books, then I think she hit a not-so-good period where her writing was very patchy, before a return to form with the wonderful Golden Egg. Whatever went wrong round the middle of her output seems to have been erased with the equally wonderful By its cover, a novel set in a Venetian library.

Brunetti is asked to investigate when a librarian at the Biblioteca Merula, a library that has notable antiquarian and manuscript collections discovers that several books have had plates cut from them, and that other books are missing. Brunetti is soon on the trail of an international book thief, who has left devastated libraries and private collections in his wake. Then a regular reader with impeccable references is brutally murdered, and, as Brunetti rapidly discovers, has stocked his bookshelves with other peoples books. Inducted into murky dealings in the rare books world, Brunetti discovers that libraries can be murderous places.

As a librarian it's perhaps not surprising that I thoroughly enjoyed this crime novel. Well constructed, with twists and turns aplenty, it was an entertaining read. It was lovely to come across a reader (yes, I mean you, Donna Leon), who, quite clearly, loves libraries though much of the description had a wonderful naivety about it, which made me long for the old days of silent libraries with carefully stamped books, and librarians as guardians of the collections (we still try to be guardians, but it's usually more Mrs. Doubtfire than Mary Poppins!)

By its cover is a delightful light entertaining read, with some thoughtful philosophical questions on the nature of books and text. Just the novel to read while clutching a glass of something from the Veneto.


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