Completed: Death in a Strange Country

Death in a Strange Country
Donna Leon

With the early bulbs blooming full force, the windows flung open, and the back porch a comfortable sitting spot, February is but a distant memory. And while the weather is more akin to a NE Ohio May than mid-March, it really has only been a few weeks since I finished the second Venetian-set book I had intended for February.

Ages back, Eva of A Striped Armchair recommended the Commissario Brunetti mysteries, and I somehow was wise enough to follow up on the suggestion. Although Leon is American, she has spent more than two decades living in Venice, and the city truly comes alive in her mysteries. I am swept back to the two brief days I spent in the canal city nearly ten years ago. (Wow, has it been that long?)

There is an element of cynicism in the two books I have read thus far: the idea that crimes might not go punished in an Italy where the mafia runs seemingly unimpeded and power and influence are far more potent than morals. Whether this is an accurate representation of Italy or a stereotype expected by American audiences, I couldn’t say. The atmosphere of the town and characters, however, feels authentic.

In this second book in the series, the victim is an American solider from the US Army Camp in nearby Vicenza, found face-down in a Venetian canal. This leads to jurisdictional tangle-ups and the insistence by Brunetti’s superior officer that the case be tied up quickly—regardless of accuracy or justice. Brunetti himself seems to operate in a mid-zone, acknowledging the system while seemingly unable to stop himself from fully completing his investigations.

What I truly love about these books, beyond the chance to travel by arm chair—and they truly are a wonderful way to visit the “real” Venice, not just that of tourists—are  Brunetti’s warm relationship with his family and his dry humor. For example, an exchange between Brunetti and one of his junior associates, regarding a historic Saint:

‘I’m surprised you didn’t know that, sir. About Saint Barbara.’
‘I wasn’t assigned the case,’ Brunetti said.

Whether or not I ever get to visit Venice in person again, I’m happy that I can always return second-hand.