Book Review: Transient Desires by Donna Leon
By Ray PalenMarch 19, 2021
In the thirtieth installment of Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti series, Brunetti is pushed to his limits as he is forced to confront an unimaginable crime.
There must be something said for longevity. In this case, I refer to the latest release by author Donna Leon title Transient Desires, which is now the 30th installment in the beloved Commissario Guido Brunetti series set in picturesque Venice, Italy.
I have been there from the start and this may be my favorite recurring mystery series. Not so much for the stories, which are always solid, but for the comfort of being able to return each year to these indelible characters and settings. In an age of such unpredictability, it feels good to be able to count on these great annual reads. Transient Desires opens with an event that finds two female American students left on the back dock of the local hospital with nearly life-threatening injuries. The only evidence that Commissario Brunetti and the colleague who brought this to him, Claudia Griffoni, have is a video showing two young men dumping the girls outside the hospital and then leaving in a hurry.
One of the girls was still unconscious with severe head injuries. The other, with a fractured arm, just remembers riding at night on a boat with the two young men who picked them up and then waking up in the hospital. Further digging allows Brunetti and Griffoni to identify the two men as Marcello Vio, who works as a loader and driver for his uncle’s ships, and his best friend Filiberto Duso, a young lawyer. The uncle in question, a man named Borgato, is bad news and suspected of several illegalities in the late-night shipping trade.
The two young men are scared, more so from the uncle than of the Carabinieri. As it turns out, they thought they were doing the right thing by dropping the injured young women off on the back dock of the hospital rather than calling the accident in late at night and wasting time waiting for the Coast Guard to arrive. They also thought they pushed an alarm button to indicate there were patients waiting for hospital care—regrettably, they had pushed an inoperable button that did nothing, and the girls were found hours later only because a hospital employee came out back for a smoke.
Understanding that this is a Donna Leon novel makes the reader conscious of the fact that there will be some deeper message and social injustice that needs to be addressed. In this case, we learn that one of the illegal trades Borgato is involved in deals with human trafficking. Duso also confesses to Brunetti that his friend Marcello was deeply troubled by an event one night where he showed up at his apartment soaking wet and claiming, ‘We killed them’. Later, it is discoverd that this is a reference to the Nigerian woman who drowned while being illegally transported by one of Borgato’s ships that Marcello was working on.
Brunetti and Griffoni, with the help of the Coast Guard and other coastal authorities, must come up with a plan to catch one of Borgato’ s vessels in the act of conducting illegal activities. However, this will not be easy and could put young Marcello’s life at risk if he is caught assisting the law. Transient Desires is a quick and engaging read. It is sublime how easy readers are able to fall into Leon’s great Brunetti stories and I hope we have many more to look forward to in the future.