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The Mystery and Magic of Venice

As much as I enjoyed Donna Leon’s previous book, a stand-alone novel, The Jewels of Paradise, I did miss Commissario Guido Brunetti. Now he is back in The Golden Egg and once again I could disappear for a few hours from this cold and endless winter to spend some time in Venice, a city I love, with Guido and his family, who I have known for longer than some of the “real” people in my life.

Guido is still at the same job; same fencing with the boss, the usual office politics, but a new young female detective is on the scene, finding her own way into the mix. Family life is calm, the parents are aging, the kids still at home but ready to fly, Guido’s wife Paola still teaches English literature, Henry James her specialty. Guido is coasting a bit at the office; the cases come and go, nothing too demanding. The “autumn is hardening up” and the fall weather makes everyone think of sweaters and darker days.

The local dry cleaning shop is busy as the season changes - and it is here that a death occurs. The death of a young man, a deaf mute who has worked at the dry cleaners for many years - “volunteered” really - and seems to be well known in the community. Although when Guido, at the insistence of Paola, decides to ask a few questions about what looks like an accidental death, he discovers the man is not really known at all.

At the same time Guido has been asked by his boss, Vice Questore Patta to “look into” a situation along a popular street of tourist shops. It seems a possible future daughter-in-law to the mayor may be breaking the law while the city turns a blind eye. For Guido this is just another lousy example of the corruption that is part of everyday life in Venice. We read about companies that hire wives, friends, and children of friends, paying thousands of Euros a year for jobs that may not even exist, and we know why Italy is bankrupt. The corruption disgusts and exhausts Guido but perhaps he can do this favour for Patta and accomplish something else that actually matters at the same time.

Griffoni, a newcomer to Venice, working with Brunetti, asks, “Do you ever get tired of this beauty?” and his answer, of course, is “Never”. Makes me want to rush off right now. There is something about Venice, the narrow streets empty of cars and bicycles – the canals, the boats. When it is too frozen to live on a Georgian Bay island Venice is the perfect alternative. In January, February, and March there are few tourists, accommodation is inexpensive, and the markets are always full of amazing fresh produce and sea food.

Donna Leon has lived in Venice for many years, writing her mystery novels, and occasional essays that have now been collected into My Venice. She writes about the pleasure of walking, stopping to chat with neighbours, the nod of the head to those you see each day as you go about your errands.

Even in a few weeks one becomes familiar with those heading across the same little bridge each morning. Readers of Donna Leon’s mysteries will enjoy this glimpse of the writer and her world. Two of my favourite essays were The House from Hell and Da Giorgio, and her essay Suggestions on Writing the Crime Novel is worth the price of admission for anyone thinking of doing so.

My Venice gives the reader an insight into life in Venice and Donna Leon reveals a little of her own life – one she has kept very private. You’ll find lots of copies of Donna Leon’s books in Venice, but although her mystery novels are international bestsellers in English she has never allowed translation or publication in Italy to protect herself from becoming a celebrity author in the country she has chosen to be her home.

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