Death at La Fenice: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon
I have just re-read the first several books in this series and am just as excited and enchanted as I was when I discovered Donna Leon before a trip to Venice, Italy, several years ago. Donna Leon obviously loves her adopted city, where she has taught for many years at the University of Maryland extension at a U.S. Air Force base near Venice. Commissario Guido Brunetti is a detective, his wife, Paola, is a professor and his children are young teens at the beginning of the series.
Paola’s family is one of the oldest and wealthiest in Venice, and Guido is only grudgingly accepted by his father-in-law, because Paola loves him.
It is a pleasure to see Guido and Paola’s father become closer to each other as each book reveals the development of their relationship. Guido is an honest and ethical man–but his boss, Patta, is more concerned about not upsetting the powerful families and the corrupt politicians than he is about solving crime.
Venice is an old city with narrow streets and no cars or motorcycles–not even bicycles. It is a city of walkers, and we follow Guido throughout his city as the narrator describes the buildings and canals.
We listen with Guido to the many bells at day’s beginning and at day’s end. We can smell the sea as Guido travels by vaparetto– water taxi–on his way to a crime scene.
In Death at la Fenice, the first in the series, published in 1992, an opera singer has been murdered and it soon appears that there are any number of people who would have wanted him dead. Guido is persistent in his efforts to solve the case.
I think it is the compassion of the man that makes these books so appealing–apart from the wonderful setting and great supporting cast of characters–Guido cares about the victims of the crime and about the people who have turned to murder in desperation. Guido is a nice man doing a tough job–it makes you happy that he has a loving wife and loyal staff.
These books are now coming back into print after several years of spotty availability. Donna Leon fans travelling to Europe could pick them up at the Frankfurt airport bookshop or in Venice, but happily, most of them are now available again in North America.