Willful Behavior by Donna Leon: A review

Claudia Leonardo is a student of English Literature at the university in Venice where Paolo Brunetti teaches. In class, Claudia is a very quiet young woman, seldom speaking, but the work that she presents to Professor Brunetti is exemplary. She shows an extraordinary understanding of the material and a particular admiration for Paolo's own literary hero, Henry James. 

Paolo surmises that anyone with such an appreciation of James must be extremely intelligent. Thus, when Claudia lingers after class one day and asks to speak with Paolo, she is prepared to give her her full attention. 

Claudia is aware that Paolo is married to a policeman, Commissario Guido Brunetti, and she wants her to ask her husband a question. She wants to know whether there is a process for obtaining a pardon for a long-dead individual who was convicted of a crime, perhaps unjustly. Paolo answers that she doesn't think her husband can answer the question without more information about what the crime was, when it occurred, etc., but Claudia refuses to elucidate and instead asks if she can speak to the Commissario herself. Paolo advises her to go to the Questura and request to speak to him.

When Claudia does go to speak to Guido, he, too, is very impressed with her intelligence and maturity and they bond over a mutual appreciation of ancient history, but in the end, she still refuses to give sufficient information for him to definitively answer her question. He's only able to give her generalities which is not what she had hoped for.

She goes on her way and Guido returns to his paperwork. But a few days later when the body of a young woman who had been savagely stabbed to death is discovered by her roommate, Guido is shocked to learn that the victim is Claudia.

Investigating the murder uncovers many secrets including the fact that the person whose name Claudia was interested in clearing was her grandfather who was an art dealer during World War II and was later convicted of having taken advantage of and cheated those, primarily Jews, who were desperate to escape the country during that time. Guido visits the home of his lover, whom Claudia referred to as her grandmother. In that home, on the walls and all around the house are art treasures of inestimable worth. The investigation is further complicated by the fact that the lover also is soon found dead in her home and her will reveals her heir as Claudia Leonardo. Guido at first suspects foul play but it seems that the woman who was quite old and ill simply died of natural causes.

In order to solve the murder of Claudia, Guido must untangle the mystery of the artworks and their provenance and find out who might have benefited from her death. As always, Donna Leon delves into the underlying social problems that contribute to this particular crime. In Venice, things are never straightforward and never quite what they seem. And as always, Guido's network of friends, family, and work colleagues assist him in uncovering the truth in his attempt to achieve justice.

Donna Leon's recurring characters remain as appealing as ever and the plot is sharp and well constructed. And her love of Venice, in spite of all its Machiavellian ways, shines through in the thoughts and words of the ever-honorable Guido Brunetti.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



  1. Despite the fact that I can't get into Henry James's writing, this sounds like a fascinating volume in Leon's series.

    1. It was exceptionally good, although none of the books in the series have disappointed me so far. A running theme of the books is Paola's adoration of Henry James. Guido can't get into him either!

  2. Another great entry in the Guido Brunetti saga. I'm glad you liked it so.

    1. I really love this series and it was just what I needed at this time.


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