A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon is the best yet in this series about Commissario Brunetti of Venice. Here Brunetti is asked to investigate the deaths of two fishermen from the Island of Pellestrina in the Venetian lagoon near the Lido. The residents of the small village on the island quickly close ranks and refuse to cooperate with the police.
Even though Venice is surrounded by water this is the first time Leon tackles life lived on the lagoon and the sea and those who eat their catch. You do not find the bleak cali here that are in her other novels. Rather in a Sea of Troubles, Brunetti visits Burano with its brightly colored houses and lively population.
The crowds from Venice have migrated to the lagoon islands preventing Brunetti from eating at his favorite restaurant in Burano and causing him to have to navigate the rules of Japanese etiquette in a restaurant on Pellestrina.
Leon provides a vivid description of being caught at sea when the Bora comes down from the north. The weather changes quickly, the rain comes in sheets, the wind picks up and waves crash into the boat throwing debris through windows. You almost feel like you are on the boat with Brunetti and Montisi.
A Sea of Troubles provides a rare glimpse into the personal life of Signorina Elettra Zorzi (this is the first time I remember her last name being used) who visits a cousin living on Pellestrina in order to help in the investigation. While there she finds a beau who shares her love of Mortadella and pale yellow sweaters.
There is a certain sadness that permeates the book even though the sun is shining (it has not rained for 3 months until the bora hits) and the white wine is chilled to just the right temperature. Mealtimes retain their importance and are still celebrated with family twice a day.
Readers will think twice about eating local clams on their next visit to Venice. We already know from previous Leon books that falling into a Venetian canal is something to be avoided at all costs, now we know to avoid some of the fresh seafood.
With my new Droid I was able to look up the translations of Italian words that I did not understand while I was reading. So now I know what “Figli di Puttane” means.
About Donna Leon
Donna Leon is the author of seventeen novels featuring Guido Brunetti. She has been awarded the Crime Writers Association Silver Dagger Award and the German Corine Prize.
A Sea of Troubles Discussion Questions:
1. Discuss the importance of characters, setting and plot in A Sea of Troubles.
2. Is the city of Venice and the surrounding area another character in the book?
3. Food often plays a central role in books that take place in Italy. Discuss the role of food in A Sea of Troubles.
4. Pellestrina is close to the Lido in Venice, but the two areas are very different. Discuss the differences. Which one would you rather visit?
5. Does having some of the words in Italian add to your enjoyment of the book?
6. What makes a mystery enjoyable?
7. Leon often tackles social issues in her books, this time it is illegal clamming in the lagoon. Do you like this or would you prefer that she stick to solving mysteries?