It must be the weather in Venice that makes Commissario Brunetti of the Venice police so melancholy. Donna Leon paints a picture of Venice that is both dreary and wonderfully mysterious. Her mystery series shows us the city that tourists see as they spend their 2 allotted days visiting the Doge Palace and St. Mark’s cathedral and the city that the natives both love and hate.
This is the Venice where it rains so much that planks are laid out over the piazze to save shoes when the water rises to knee height. The winding alleys and streets and the maze of canals are vividly described in each of Donna Leon’s books.
It is interesting to read a story that takes place in a city where everything depends on the water. Water, that as Commissario Brunetti describes it, you would not even want to stick your hand in because it is so polluted. Vaporetto’s are labeled like New Yorkers label their buses. You catch the number 5 boat at one corner to be dropped off at another.
As with Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian mystery series featuring Inspector Montalbano, food, coffee and wine are the fuel that sustains and fortifies Italians. The dinners and lunches are described in finite detail while bad wine is treated like the disaster it can be.
Commissario Brunetti has a wife Paola who teaches at a local University and two teenage children. Leon’s description of teenagers reminds us that though their environments may be different, the troubles of teenagers are universal.
As Commissario Brunetti wanders his city, the city he has lived in his whole life, he is always noticing something he has not noticed before. He may have passed the same building for 20 years and only now notices the subtle coloring of the stone.
Like any good mystery written in and about Italy the locals look on the government and the police with a jaundiced eye, assuming corruption where it may or may not be.
Donna Leon’s books are mysteries, so they are light and entertaining. Leon’s writing is clear, her plots well constructed and the characters well-developed. To add to their enjoyment each book takes a topic and explores it: Death in a Strange Country tackles toxic dumps, Acqua Alta the international art trade and A Noble Radiance
sales of nuclear material. These are mysteries and as with all mystery series they should not be read as great literature, rather they should be read for their entertainment value and to transport you to a different place for the brief time you can actually sit and read a book.
According to her book cover, Donna Leon has lived in Venice for many years. She has also lived in Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, England, Iran and China, where she worked as a teacher. She was born in New Jersey.
Books by Donna Leon that feature Comissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice Police:
Death at La Fenice (September 2004)
Death in a Strange Country (January 2005)
Dressed for Death (September 2005)
Death and Judgment (September 2006)
Acqua Alta (September 2004)
A Noble Radiance (September 2003)
Uniform Justice (March 2004)
Doctored Evidence (May 2005)
Blood from a Stone (April 2006)
Some of the books were initially published in the early 1990’s and have been republished. If you like mysteries, then spend a weekend reading one by Donna Leon and enjoy Venice, Italy for a few days.