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All with a secret to tell

By Its Cover by Donna Leon William Heinemann (2014; April 3) €11.45 ****

I HAVE come to the last few Commissario Brunetti novels heaving a pre-disappointed sigh; here, things seem to be back on track, if all too brief for it.

Leon's Venice-set novels started out being about crimes and mysteries, segued into personality-driven tales that were light on perps, and then devolved into the ways in which the myriad frustrations of Italian bureaucracy were thwarting our beloved Guido B.

I have to wonder how this may mirror the American author's own experience of living in a European city, though given the way things work in Italy, one imagines that the bureaucratic frustrations may have come earlier in her sojourn.

A series of valuable books has been stolen from a library; in some cases, several pages have been sliced from priceless tomes.

It's not only whodunit that's up for debate, but also the difference between a collector and a reader, and between the value a narrative has versus the worth of something that is valuable because it's very, very old.

It's a terrific polemic, and one that hounds Brunetti throughout the novel.

As he attempts to come up with a representative figure for the damaged and stolen books, there's any number of people willing to malign him for trying to put a price on the priceless.

It makes one wonder about the value of things as opposed to the worth of nothing, and it's invigorating.

At some stage, though, the mystery must be solved – and it is. There's much missing in terms of Guido's non-Questura life, and his relationship with Signorina Elettra, much less his wife Paola.

While the return to proper police procedural is welcome, it's a loss to miss out on the personal aspects, and it's down to that brevity.

A lack of complexity makes this a fast but ultimately sketchy read.

Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto Sphere (2014) €5.49 eBook **

YOU may recognise the man's name from the credits of the exceptional True Detectives series that ran on America's HBO network.

If you enjoyed that programme as much as I did – it went some way to filling the Breaking Bad-shaped hole in my heart – you may find you want to fall on this like it's water after miles of desert.

There's not much that's refreshing here, but there's plenty that's familiar.

Roy Cady is a bagman for a small-time Louisiana crim; he's just been diagnosed with cancer, and this seems like either a good moment to make peace with his life or to go completely off the deep end.

Set up by his boss to take a hit himself, Roy somehow manages to stab and blast his way out of trouble and picks up the barely legal Rocky, a prostitute on her first night in the business, along the way.

They go on the run, heading back to east Texas from where they both hail, in a pick-up truck that sounds an awful lot like Rust Cohle's.

There's a lot that sounds like you've heard it before, and the seeds of much of True Detective were sown here.

That's grand, as the novel was originally published in 2011, and there are tropes that any noir-ish crime story is going to draw on.

And then there are other elements, as when Roy talks about the stickman figures he made, cutting up beer cans, and, well, we saw that in TD, didn't we?

We also saw quite a lot of women-as-whores, whether actually or symbolically, which is tiresomely employed here as well.

Pizzolatto's characters inhabit a seedy society that is very, very much divided along traditional gender lines, and one supposes that there's nowhere to go with that, but with any luck this approach may become more nuanced in future works.

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves Macmillan (2014) €20 *****

SPEAKING of telly: this is the sixth installment in Cleeves' Newcastle-based crime series, which has been adapted by ITV and stars Brenda Blethyn as Vera, the tough-as-nails, doesn't-give-a-damn, hard-driving DI.

This one is set at Christmas, and the mystery surrounds the stabbing death of an elderly, well-thought-of local woman on a train.

The bleakness of a coastal December, as well as the bleakness of the inhabitants of the town, is superbly wrought, and the mystery is suitably and wonderfully mysterious. I haven't read the first five – can't wait to play catch-up.

The Third Rule of Ten: A Tenzing Norbu Mystery by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay Hay House (2014) €12.99 **

A Buddhist monk called Tenzing read a bunch of Sherlock Holmes novels while in the monastery, and decided to leave and become a detective.

After the LAPD wrung him out, he went into business as a PI. It's kind of the zen of Karate Kid meets the monk-ness of Cadfael, I guess, but with a girlfriend on top.

I didn't warm to Ten, and the mystery wasn't gripping.

The Caravaggio Conspiracy by Alex Connor Quercus (2013) €11.45 **

I LIKE Caravaggio, and I love a good conspiracy, but this never hotted-up enough.

It's got the sprawl needed in a Da Vinci Code-type thriller, and it's even got a living descendant of the great artist who's got a big secret. But the lead investigator, Gil Eckhart, hasn't got the charisma of, God help me, Robert Langdon.

The writing is perfectly pitched for tension, but not so much for any sense of characterisation.


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