If you have never read one of Donna Leon’s marvelous Guido Brunetti mysteries, don’t let the unfamiliar locale and culture --- Venice --- or the fact that the newly published Trace Elements is the 29th installment in the series dissuade you. These novels are written so that one can pick them up in any order at any time without missing a beat ... [a] long-running, character-driven series that never fails to winningly entertain ... Anyone who has even a passing interest in mystery literature should be reading this series religiously. Leon is incapable of writing badly and is a subtle, nuanced storyteller of the first order. Trace Elements continues her wondrous string of memorable police procedurals, all of which are keepers.
...proceeds with the smooth, practiced ease of precision clockwork ... a satisfyingly multifaceted mystery that develops some oddly subdued tones. The narrative is oppressed on virtually every page with the heat and humidity of Venice in high summer (characters are forever daubing themselves), and the nature of the crime brings familial concerns to the surface for every character ... crepuscular notes tame the momentum of Trace Elements, but Leon’s books have always been more conversational than combustive. Our heroes persevere through the heat and the red herrings, and the book’s final act will have readers hoping Brunetti keeps postponing that retirement indefinitely.
Leon’s ability to paint both her city of Venice and the quandaries of commitment make this Trace Elements a quietly powerful book. The plot and related risks are less dramatic than usual, and perhaps less memorable, but in the long run, this is a book rich with questions of honor and trust, offered from the hand of a master storyteller.
Throughout her acclaimed Guido Brunetti series, Leon has brilliantly melded topical social issues with timeless considerations of human imperfections and the dilemmas they generate. Here she does so again with a meditative novel that looks at the water crisis in Venice—not flooding this time, but pollution—set against the eternal problem of justice ... In an age where so many seek simplistic and wrongheaded answers to complex questions, it is comforting that Leon, in celebrating human complexity, remains one of our most beloved writers.
... thought-provoking ... As usual, Leon adroitly portrays the complex questions of what constitutes justice and the sad consequences that can result from its pursuit. This long-running series shows no sign of losing steam.