The Biblioteca Merula in Venice has experienced a terrible desecration: a number of valuable old books have been stolen and others have had pages cut out. When Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates, Dottoressa Fabbiani - the chief librarian - tells him an American scholar, Dr. Joseph Nickerson, had been reading the cut up books. Brunetti also learns that another ardent reader, former priest Aldo Franchini, has been coming to the library for years to read 'Fathers of the Church,'
Before long Brunetti discovers that Nickerson's credentials were falsified and that Franchini has been murdered. He also learns that book theft has become rampant in the country, with valuable tomes disappearing from libraries across Italy. While investigating the murder and thefts Brunetti learns a bit about obsessive collectors, greedy villains, and certain members of the Italian aristocracy. As always his boss's fashionable secretary, Signorina Elettra, provides valuable computer assistance as well as a touch of humor.
Much of the charm of Donna Leon's books lie in the ambiance, including snippets about Venice - the canals and cafes, and Brunetti's warm interactions with his children and wife - a scholar, teacher, and excellent cook.
Brunetti and his team conduct their investigation and solve the crime in an efficient manner, but without much excitement. This is a mildly entertaining quick read with familiar likable characters.