Sunday, March 29, 2020

Escape To Venice

Leon has been writing about police Commissario Brunetti for well over twenty years, and his city of Venice is one of the main characters, along with Brunetti and his family. The series stands out not only for its setting, but for the almost equal time devoted to Brunetti's home life as to his work; the story is never about the crimes alone, but about the people who are caught up in them. Twenty-odd years ago, Brunetti's job was petty thieves and stupid murders and working around corruption; his children were young. Brunetti, though he went to college and reads classics—Greek and Roman—for a hobby, is a working class man. His wife Paola is of the nobility, though she was a student radical and socialist; her father is a Count. The early books weave the politics of sex and class through issues of family and justice, a window into Venetian life. Venice is in the water as well as on the water, though, and the later books engage with crime in environmental issues, particularly water quality. This is all explored within the context of daily living; Brunetti's relationships at home and at work develop and change as everyone ages. There’s the ebb and flow of politics and of the canals, the rustic countryside fading away as the city grows, the customs of old fading as tourists become prevalent. Brunetti and Paola, a professor of literature whose other love is Henry James, discuss philosophy, psychology and ethics over dinner and pillow talk. In this book, we’re trying to figure out whether a crime has even been committed. Brunetti’s colleague Claudia Griffoni is featured; we always see his boss and his secretary Signorina Elettra, the most beautiful hacker in Italy, but Brunetti’s colleagues take their turn. Griffoni’s from the south of Italy, not Venetian; regional prejudices feature in the stories, too, echoing life outside the pages. They’re called to a deathbed, where the dying widow gives them not a confession, but a mystery. Who killed her husband, if he was killed? I hope I’ve intrigued you about the series; I hope you begin at the beginning. After all these years, reading Leon is like spending time with an old friend, congenial and satisfying. (Thanks to the publisher for the advance copy to review!)

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