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Donna Leon & Venice

Donna Leon & Venice There are only a few books that I have read more than once – discovering again each time why I enjoyed them so much the first time. And there are some authors who capture a place so perfectly that when you travel to that place theirs are simply the only books to read while there. For me Venice is Donna Leon and Donna Leon is Venice – and I know that I am not alone.

Before a trip to Venice I re-read a couple of my favourite novels in the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series by Donna Leon and took a couple of others with me – as well as several books by other authors that I ended up putting aside, as I rushed off to a bookshop to buy more Donna Leon.

I started with Dressed for Death, published in 1994, it is only the third in the series and we meet a younger and slightly more idealistic Brunetti than in the more recent novels. Poor Guido is left behind by his family who head off to the mountains for a summer holiday – this is the usual summer practice of Venetians, leaving the heat and humidity and the onslaught of tourists to escape to the cool fresh air of the nearby mountains in August each year – many closing their restaurants and businesses to do so. When a man, dressed in a woman’s clothing, is found murdered in Mestre, the industrialized mainland close to Venice, Brunetti finds himself sequestered to help the short staffed Mestre police. His holiday plans disappear in the humidity and Brunetti finds himself investigating the world of prostitutes and transvestites, finding among them the influence and involvement of some powerful but not so respectable local citizens.

After a visit to Acqua Alta Books I followed this with Doctored Evidence, published in 2003. I chose this title because the story takes place in Cannaregio, the neighbourhood were we made our home for a couple of cold weeks in January. This book was written almost 10 years after Dressed for Death and things have changed. There are now telefonios, a young policeman who had a bit part in the earlier book is now Lieutenant Scarpa and a thorn in the side of our beloved Brunetti (I always think of the evil Scapia in Tosca when I read Scarpa’s name). Again it is August, hot and humid in a city full of tourists and many Venetians are out of the city to escape it all. When a nasty old woman, Signora Grismondi, is murdered it is quickly decided that her eastern European maid is guilty. Some time passes before Signora Grismondi’s neighbour returns from holiday with evidence that may change things, and it is Brunetti, who had also been on holiday, who picks up the case for a second look. By now Signorina Elettra and Brunetti have a very efficient and effective working relationship, with her contacts and her computer she has the answers he wants before he even knows to ask the questions.

Having rushed through Doctored Evidence in a day, in bed with a vicious Venetian flu, I returned to Acqua Alta for one more book. Friends in High Places, published in 2000, finds Brunetti with a very personal problem. He receives a visit from serious young building inspector who tells him about a plan to consolidate various departments related to buildings in Venice, and then asks Brunetti to produce documents regarding the purchase of his apartment and all plans and approvals for any renovations that have been done since he has lived there. The Brunetti’s have lived in this apartment for many years, their children have grown up there, and Guido does indeed have his papers. They are not, however, in order according to Franco Rossi, and in fact there is no evidence – on paper – to show that the Brunetti’s apartment exists. You can very well laugh, as Guido does at first, but it is a serious problem. It is a problem that Guido’s wife, Paola, could solve with a simple chat with her father, but Guido forbids it – he will settle this himself. When Franco Rossi is found dead the story becomes – as we fully expected – a murder investigation.

I finished reading Doctored Evidence on the plane on the way home and with great satisfaction passed it along to my husband who will continue to read about Venice for a few more days while I move on to all the books I did not read on my holiday.

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