Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Four and a half stars.
Death at La Fenice is the first book of the long-standing crime series by Donna Leon. We are introduced to Commissario Guido Brunetti in his native Venice. A famous conductor is found dead in his dressing room during intermission, apparently poisoned by a dose of cyanide in his coffee. In the early stage of the investigation, Brunetti notes “how strangely similar his work was that of a doctor. They met over the dead, both asking ‘Why?’ But after they found the answer to that questions, their paths parted, the doctor going backward in time to find the physical cause, and he going forward to find the person responsible.”
I loved the novel’s sense of moral ambiguity, which is especially ironic since the victim saw justice as black and white. There is also the backdrop of European history: fascists, communists, and nasty Nazi rumours. But the present truth is much darker.
Of course, one of the stars of the book is Venice. Brunetti often mulls her great past and current decline into a provincial town. He wonders “how long it would take before the entire city became a sort of living museum, a place fit only for visiting and not for inhabiting.” Tourists are also fair game as Brunetti wryly observes them as “people who [seem] to find the pigeons more interesting than the basilica.”
What will keep me reading the series is Leon’s attention to Brunetti’s family life and work politics, and her insights on Italian life. I loved Brunetti’s affection for two lazy colleagues, his interaction with an art gossip and a lunch hosted by the dominating matron of one of the area’s best restaurants.
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