One of the reasons I so enjoy Donna Leon‘s books is that the beautifully crafted and enduring character Commissario Guido Brunetti is so refreshingly normal. Not wounded – emotionally or physically – in the way that seems to have become almost de rigueur in police drama. He’s principled and compassionate. Utterly faithful to his wife, Paola. Loves his children. True, no meal however humble can pass without a glass or two or suitably matching wine, and he particularly enjoys a glass of grappa with his dessert. But he doesn’t wake up barely able to crawl to work or unable to remember the events of the previous evening.
Whilst criminals do abound, his lingering adversary is the divisive snobbery and rampant corruption that cripples every level of life in his beloved Venice. Ironically it is the elite social standing of Paola, that allows him to maneuver through the political web that is the city’s Polizia. The opening scene of The Waters of Eternal Youth provides even the newest reader with a colourful snapshot of the power elite that is the real Venice.
Over the years I’ve travelled many times to Venice with novelist Donna Leon. I’ve got to know the historic Italian city through the eyes of her enigmatic hero Commissario Brunetti who has a far more nuanced appreciation than the average tourist, or tourist guide. In her latest book, Falling in Love, Leon provides an encore appearance for famed opera soprano Flavia Petrelli who was introduced in Death at La Fenice, the first novel in what has become a 24-book series. Petrelli has returned to Venice to Teatro La Fenice to sing the lead in Puccini’s Tosca. Each night she is mobbed by fans clamoring for their moment in the company of greatness.
Reading a novel by Donna Leon is like taking a trip to Venice, so vivid is the environment she creates on the page. By its Cover, published in Australia this week, is the 23rd in The Commissario Brunetti series but Leon’s books have always been much more than straightforward crime novels.
Brunetti is his own man but not in the confrontational, rebellious ways of Ian Rankin’s Rebus or Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole. Brunetti works within, but is not part of, the inherent corrupt system that is woven into every the fabric of the Venetians’ lives; from unpaid taxes to the broad-ranging bribery of officials; deliberate incompetence by police to the theft of evidence and the pillaging of the