Trace Elements

How, you’re probably wondering, could the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) possibly relate to a novel about Venice?

OK, I admit that you’re probably wondering no such thing. But I’m going to tell you anyway. Of course water is the common bond, but what particularly about water?

It’s not what you think. Check out this paragraph from the WMRA:

Tests of water from MWRA’s Quabbin and Wachusetts Reservoirs, which are the source of Boston’s potable water, show no more than trace amounts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, together abbreviated as PFAS. In fact, PFAS in MWRA water were too low to be quantified. The sum of the six regulated PFA compounds was zero, below the new MassDEP standard of 20 ng/l. 

Yes, I think we’ll all agree that zero is below 20. And here we have the link: PFAS in the water supply. So the water connection turns out to be unrelated to the fact that Venice is a series of islands, therefore surrounded by and filled with water. The Venice connection is not sea water but the drinking water supply!

Trace Elements is #29 out of the 32 (so far) novels in Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series. But four months ago I reviewed #31! How did this calendrical travesty happen?

The answer is simple: unfortunately and inadvertently I got out of sequence in my reading. Fortunately I have now rectified that calamity and am ready to proceed to #32, which has just been released.

Anyway, back to Trace Elements. I listened to the audiobook version, read by the inimitable David Colacci, who captures each character’s distinct voice as well as the metaphorical voice of the city of Venice. This effort is rather leisurely, with some attention to Brunetti’s family, rather more to environmental politics, and a good dose of police procedure.

One amateur reviewer on Amazon observed that “the complications of the blurred line between good and evil, right and wrong, hope and dejection are well portrayed here.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s a novel about humanity, social interactions, the environment, corruption, and politics—all in the context of Italy. Surely just Italy: those issues aren’t relevant here, are they?

Categories: Books