Completed: Dressed for Death

Venice in February 2013

Dressed for Death
Donna Leon
1994, U.S.

Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza and Ally of Snow Feathers are hosting Venice in February again this year, and although I didn’t have any particular plans for Venetian-set reading this year, I thought it as good an excuse as any to pick up another Commissario Brunetti mystery. This is the third I’ve read, and the third in the series–I’m going in order, but I don’t know if it’s particularly necessary–although, I don’t think I would start with this one. Truthfully, when it comes to most mystery series, and this one is no exception, once you’ve read a few you don’t find much new to say about subsequent entries. However, that won’t keep me from reading more of Leon’s mysteries, for the real appeal of the series is the setting. I’ve only ever spent two days in Venice, but I am transported back every time I pick up a Brunetti story.

Leon’s mysteries don’t seem to tie up neatly the way so many other mystery novels tend to do. It was only reading this one, however, that it dawned on me that this makes them truer to real life than other detective novels. In real life, when a suspect is taken to trial we don’t always know for sure that they are guilty, or we may, but the evidence may not be sufficient. A good lawyer may dismantle the prosecution’s case (or defense’s), allowing the jury to reach a verdict that isn’t actually true, but only as true as they can find it to be based on what they’ve been presented. Most mysteries don’t let us see this, but in Brunetti’s Venice, it is made plain for the reader that real life isn’t clean and neat, that politics and connections may trump truth. It is tempting to think, oh, that’s just Italy, they have all sorts of corruption, but one look at the local news  makes it obvious that I would delude myself to think so. The past few years of local news have been full of political scandal and corruption–to such an extent that the local Democrats actually appointed a Republican to a position that had been made vacant due to an embezzling case (long story). So no, the corruption and messy ends are not unique to Italy.

Also refreshing about the Leon novels, the detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti, doesn’t have a tragic flawed past, isn’t an alcoholic, has a happy family life–in the third book his major personal conflict is whether he will solve the case in time to join his family on vacation. Nor are the cases solved quickly, with some miraculous piece of conclusive evidence or some spectacular deduction on the detective’s part. Grunt work, tedious slogs through piles of papers and computer files, and waiting, waiting, waiting–it somehow strikes me as more likely to be realistic than the TV crime procedurals I spend too much time watching, while not being too graphic or gritty. A series I can happily return to.

Odds ‘n Ends

  • I really should have posted earlier this week the results of the Classics Club Spin: number 14 was selected, which means I will be reading The Castle of Otranto. If I get it read (and it’s short, so yay), it will fill the Sensation! project slot for this year.
  • Speaking of yearly goals, the above post marks my successful completion of a reading challenge ON TIME! One goal down for the year and it’s only February.

5 thoughts on “Completed: Dressed for Death

  1. As much as a fan of detective fiction as I am, I have never read or been recommended Donna Leon. I think I’m not really attracted to the Italian setting and that’s why I haven’t picked up one of her books yet.

    1. I think the strongest attraction for me to Leon’s books is the Venetian setting – since I’ve been there, I can picture the settings, and I’ve spent more than a few minutes scouring maps to work out the locations! They’re fun for the mystery too, but it’s definitely Venice that reels me in.

  2. How intriguing that this series makes an attempt to emulate the process of ‘real life’ detective work. When I was reading some Holmes short stories, there was a short paragraph from Watson saying Sherlock didn’t always solve the case. They didn’t find enough evidence in some cases, loose ends weren’t tied up, some cases weren’t particularly interesting. Watson states he simply chose not to recount those experiences. Silly as it sounds, it was a shock to me that Sherlock was not the invincible consulting detective I had always imagined him to be.

    Also, I wouldn’t mind a mental vacation to Venice right about now. 🙂

    1. After the past two weeks, I wouldn’t mind a mental vacation to Venice right now myself! Or just about anywhere…. I must not have read those stories yet, as I don’t recall Watson mentioning any unsolved stories.

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