Monday, May 18, 2009

Brunetti To The Rescue

A Book Review

When a world famous conductor dies during the intermission of an opera in Venice, Commissario Guido Brunetti is called in to investigate the death. The how, where and when of the case are clear. The conductor died of cyanide poisoning in his dressing room between acts. But who killed him and why are very much in question. As Brunetti investigates, he finds that while the Maestro’s musical talent was much admired, his personal history is so unpleasant that there are many who might be moved to revenge.  Brunetti’s hunt for the murderer takes him to parts of Venice that even most Venetians never experience. He has a plethora of suspects, but Brunetti knows in his heart that he hasn’t reached the real reason behind the murder.  In pursuit of ancient stories that might provide a clue, Brunetti goes out to a ‘reject island’ to talk to a former opera singer. The damp and cold that sink into his bones are magnified by the story he finally extracts from the destitute old woman. Clearly she did not murder the conductor, but can a tragedy 40 years old point Brunetti in the right direction?

If you’ve never met Commissario Guido Brunetti, and you like mysteries, this is the summer you should make his acquaintance. He is a charming character, a man who lives within his means and who is largely pleased with his wife, children, and in general, life. His imbecile boss could be a fly in an otherwise pleasant ointment, but Brunetti avoids taking him too seriously by mentally betting on the boss’s next action or words. If Brunetti wins, he buys his wife flowers. Brunetti is the only one who knows about the bets, but he usually wins. It is another of the light touches author Donna Leon has crafted to endear Brunetti to the reader.  He is a thoroughly likeable, honest, romantic man, genuinely concerned with what the truth in a matter is, yet compassionate and responsible about what the truth might reveal in a public setting.

The setting of the story, Venice, is seen through the eyes of a resident rather than a tourist or researcher. This makes it gritty and real. Except for the opera house, the story largely avoids the tourist attractions, churches and art. Instead, it focuses on regular people and how their lives intersect with Brunetti as he pursues his quarry. I will be forever grateful to the author for introducing me to a wonderful new word in her description of Venice at night. Who would ever guess that a gondola could be numinous? (Look it up!)

This is an older book, first published in hardback in 1992, and paperback in 2002 by Perennial Dark Alley, an imprint of HarperCollins. This copy was acquired at the Spring 09 Semi-Annual Used Book Sale for $2. With a great mystery, a great character and an absolutely brilliant resolution, Death at La Fenice was well worth the price.



Dr.John said...

I seldom find great books like that for $2.00. Sounds like a first class mystery.

pinger said...

"The conductor died of cyanide poisoning in his dressing room between acts..."

Colonel Mustard, in the library, with a knife! Sounds fun.

Reston Friends! said...

Dr. John, let me cordially invite you to our next semi-annual sale (Sept 24-26) at which you will find countless awesome books for $1 and $2!~Reston Friends a/k/a Southlakesmom

Pinger -- that thought occurred to me when I re-read it. Oh least it made you smile.