Food, of course, is a constant theme throughout the Brunetti series, which has become beloved of readers as much for the tastes and aromas of Paola Brunetti's kitchen as it is for her husband's cases. In Beastly Things, Leon takes the food theme one step further, placing Brunetti at the centre of a murder investigation that involves the processing of beef cattle for human consumption.
Recent novels in this wonderful series have addressed a number of philosophical, political and ethical themes that have broadened out beyond the analysis of the chaotic and corrupt state of Italian public and commercial life - although this inevitably plays a role in most affairs.
In Beastly Things, the main subject of debate is the rearing and consumption of meat. The discourse is played out in dialogues between Brunetti and Paola, or with his two closest colleagues, the enigmatic Signorina Elettra or the principled, taciturn Vianello, and it is these that provide the emotional centre of the of the book and much of the enjoyment.
Brunetti, an equable and likable character, is often cast in the role of ingenue, surprised by the complexity of the world and by the depth and ferocity of his companions' thinking and opinions. He too, however, is quietly principled and a man whose moral compass determines the direction of his investigations, a necessity in Italy where nothing, including justice, is straightforward.
This is an unusual Brunetti novel in one sense, in that the crime becomes apparent immediately rather than after 100 pages or so of reflections on life and society as has been the case in recent books.
A murder victim fished out of a canal leads Brunetti and Vianello through a murky trail of sexual politics, profiteering, political intrigue and finally to the gates of a slaughterhouse where the dead man worked.
Despite the gruesome nature of the investigation, and the diseased world it unveils, Beastly Things is a joy. I usually take these books on holiday as a special treat for the beach. I'll miss it this year.