Sunday, 8 May 2016

Wot I'm reading: dirty deeds in Venice

Donna Leon: FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES


I'm a bit late coming to Donna Leon and Commisario Guido Brunetti. Writing a book set in Venice myself (see Lillian and the Italians on www.davidgeebooks.com), I've avoided anything that might colour my own view of the city. Easy to see why Signora Leon has such a big following: she is a very fine writer.

Here, Brunetti investigates the suspicious deaths of a building inspector in a fall and a decomposing overdosed drug addict. There seems to be a link to the activities of a pair of elderly moneylenders who make Shylock seem like Mother Theresa. The means Brunetti employs to flush out the killer are unorthodox, probably unprofessional but effective.

Leon's writing is entirely modern, although the unhurried pace and the quiet doggedness of Brunetti evokes the era of Poirot and Miss Marple. The author's elegant prose took me further back to dear old Dorothy L. Sayers (don't be shocked, reader: in my youth I was proud to be a friend of Dorothy L. Sayers!). Her picture of Guido's Venice is evocative without ever seeming overdone. She has a clear vision of the country and its people: "Italy was a country where everyone knew everything while no one was willing to say anything." 

A mortuary scene with the dead junkie's parents is perfectly poignant, and the ending is a notable demonstration of what Graham Greene called "the splinter of ice" a writer needs to stand out from the crowd. Mrs Leon stands out. 

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