Books: Any mystery by Donna Leon
Donna Leon has made a career out of killing off many people in just one city. But with all the romance and mystery of Venice, Italy, why not?
Unlike the many writers who have plumbed the rich history of Venice, Donna Leon goes after the gritty underbelly of today’s Italy. Grubbing around in police works and political corruption she exposes plenty of things that the tourist board will not be telling you about. I gobbled the books down like potato chips before, during and after my Italian trip.
In 2008 the yearly high tides in Venice reached exceptionally high marks, making Leon’s 1996 (reprinted in 2005) Acqua Alta , timely all over again. Leon’s police procedural mysteries (16 so far) about the personable family man, Commissario Brunetti, come across as a love letter to Venice. But not a love letter from a smitten teen. Her books strike me as a mature kind of love letter that says I know all your warts and I love you still.
When I went to Venice, the romantic decay all seemed just a little too seedy. And the city that once built an empire on commerce, now trades in made-in-China copies of Venetian masks. Talk about tacky souvenirs–I thought that if I saw one more pair of men’s underwear sporting a bit of David’s anatomy (that’s David by Michelangelo)—I would jump in a canal.
Leon (and Brunetti) also led me to hidden treasures of Venice, and explained the little cultural secrets that sometimes elude a tourist.I went on a Commissario Brunetti alert, recognizing street and plaza names and remembering the crime that took place in a particular canal. She also has published (with Toni Sepeda): Brunetti’s Venice: Walking With the City’s Best-Loved Detective.
You may want to start with her latest book, The Girl of His Dreams , but once you add Leon to your travel library, I’ll bet you can’t read just one.
* NOTE: In 2018 the number of mysteries has climbed to 27 and you can also buy Brunetti’s Cookbook by Roberta Pianaro and Donna Leon. Thank goodness. I’ve been drooling over those pages in the novels where his wife whips up a wonderful dinner for the family.