Aqua Alta by Donna Leon
I’m hoping to bump into Guido Brunetti this week, perhaps as he is rushing around the corner into the Campo San Vio after crossing the Accademia Bridge, or maybe we’ll sit, side by side, on the vaparetto on the way to Torcello – although Guido might take a launch from the Questura if he is in a hurry. I hope he will forgive me for being one of the hated tourists that plague his city. Maybe he will forgive me because I am here in January, which might indicate to him how much I love Venice without the crowds, as he does. Guido might also curse the acqua alta that is possible in January, especially around the time of the full moon, but it is something I am hoping to experience. I am also hoping for snow – and enjoying the very damp cold weather at this time of year because it makes entering a favourite restaurant at the far end of the Zattere even more wonderful. There I will find fish soup as fresh as it can be, and we will be welcomed like long lost relatives into a steamy little room, and much later we will be bid goodnight with a warm grappa.
This is all a dream, of course, because Guido Brunetti is not real – he is the invention of Donna Leon, and the hero of all of her mystery novels set n the amazing city of Venice. If you are planning a trip to Venice – at any time of year – there is not a better way to prepare for your trip than by reading a Guido Brunetti mystery. The series begins with Death at La Fenice, a novel I re-read a couple of years ago, and continues with, now, 20 books in the series. I have just re-read Acqua Alta to once again get another little taste of one of my favourite cities. Just by opening the pages of Acqua Alta you are immediately immersed in the city, and in the middle of a disturbingly violence investigation.
We meet again Flavia Petrelli, an opera singer we came to know in Death at La Fenice and her partner Brett Lynch, a specialist in Chinese ceramics. Brett has just returned from China, preparing for a meeting at the local ceramics museum about a concern she has regarding ceramics she arranged to have included in a traveling exhibit. Flavia and Brett have had a long distance relationship for some time and are reveling in being together again at Brett’s Venetian apartment. All of their happiness is shattered when Brett is attacked and viciously beaten. When Commissario Guido Brunetti sees the file cross his desk he immediately visits the couple and takes a special interest in the case. His superior, the very superior Vice-questore Pata, wants this case solved, this sort of violence is bad for the reputation of Venice and it’s police force. With the assistance of the ever resourceful, beautifully dressed and groomed, and well-connected Elettra at her computer, the case is of course, eventually solved.
As always we have time at home with Guido and his wife, Paola, a professor specializing in the work of Henry James, who is very much part of the family. Paola is featured somewhat less in this novel than in some of the others, and the children are not much in evidence apart for some concern about the activity of their teenage son Raffi.
And always, as we read, we find ourselves traversing the calles and campos of the city of Venice and the islands, immersed in the city. In this case we are literally in the high water, the acqua alta which is splashing over the embankment at the Piazza San Marco and wetting the feet of those who leave their rubber boots at home. Perfect!