Since we went to Italy in 2011, I’ve continued studying and learning more about this wonderful country. Each of its 20 different regions boast its own heritage and culinary traditions, but my favorite by far was Veneto, home to Venice.
Canals wind through 118 small islands, connected by bridges, creating a sense of intrigue and possibility. Mystery writer Donna Leon lives here, and her “Commissario Guido Brunetti” series is a well-written doorway into Venetian life and habits. This series is my recommendation for Thumbs Up Tuesdays Three.
Starting in 1992 with Death at La Fenice, Leon has written a total of 24 Brunetti mysteries, with the most recent, Falling in Love, due to be released in 2015.
I’ve been asked which Leon title is my favorite, and the answer is easy: all of them.
Don’t expect extreme action scenes or anything racy; rather, Leon gives a low-key series, written well, with a main character who progresses thoughtfully. Rarely does Brunetti treat anyone rudely; unless their behavior is beneath contempt, he displays remarkable self-control, especially in dealing with his arrogant boss, Vice-Questore Giuseppe Patta.
Beneath that exterior, he’s wily, willful, intelligent, and entirely likable – there are times when I want Brunetti to act obstinately, and Leon has him do this in a way that leaves me feeling vindicated for his sake.
Brunetti’s wife, Paola, provides another foil – outspoken, intelligent, and opinionated, she regularly voices her thoughts to Brunetti on politics, Patta, and her parents. Brunetti manages to listen, placate when necessary, and ignore her if he must.
Interestingly, not every story provides the cut-and-dried sense of justice that we Americans have come to expect in our mysteries. Sometimes “justice” simply withers away, and Brunetti is left with a sense that this particular mystery isn’t going to be solved the way he thought it would.
When Leon was asked about this, she said people in Italy have “no illusions” about justice. “They know all politicians are corrupt, they know that all institutions are corrupt, and they never pretend that they are anything but that. I find that very refreshing.”
And you don’t have to read the series in order – pick up Death at La Fenice and watch Leon excavate revenge with Venetian subtlety; turn the pages of Dressed for Death and see Brunetti’s humanity come through in the face of senseless violence.
If you’ve already read any of Leon’s books, share your opinion below – I’d love to hear what you think!