21 October 2012

Big Venetian Flood

If it really mattered, I suppose, I'd keep track of how book titles and authors' names got on to my reading list. But it's just a "to read" list.

Donna Leon
So the name Donna Leon is on my list. I don't know how it got there. Perhaps Dale mentioned one of her books. Perhaps I read a review somewhere. Maybe Dan or Bird mentioned her. It really doesn't matter unless I owe someone a thank you. And I do owe someone a thank you for this recommendation.

When I was last at the Northfield Library, I found Leon's book, Acqua Alta. It was one of several of her books on the shelf and it was the oldest one. I thought I'd begin with an early book, so I could continue with her oeuvre if I liked this one.

Well, I liked this one a bit. I liked it enough that I'll go back and read another of Leon's mysteries. It's a story about an investigation by Venetian Inspector Guido Brunetti. I liked the inspector, in part because he went home for lunch with his family and he was actually at home with them in the evenings. This guy was not a workaholic like so many investigators.

When an American archaeologist, away from her research in China, is attacked by two thugs from the south of Italy (i.e. mafia guys), the inspector who had met the victim a couple years earlier at an exhibit of Chinese artifacts in Venice, is drawn into the case. Just as his boss is warning him not to get involved, the mayor calls and asks that the police assign one of their very best to the investigation.

It seems that the American's lover, a famous diva in European opera, is a friend of the mayor. So, Brunetti is assigned to the case.

As he investigates, there is another murder and the suspicious death of an archaeologist in China that seems related. There are stolen antiquities and cleverly made fakes. And there's a rich guy without a job from the south of the country who has just restored a big old fancy palace in Venice.

Lots of elements and clever links between them. Believable work and discoveries by Brunetti and his colleagues.

Flooded Piazza San Marco
But, the story telling plods along like someone trying to wade across a flooded piazza. (Catch the title? Acqua Alta. It's Italian for high waters.) Whenever there is heavy rain or exceptionally high tides, Venice is filled with sirens warning about acqua alta. City workers quickly go out and set up raised boardwalks so people can walk around the city without wading in knee-deep water. The high water keeps people from moving around quickly and somehow it keeps this story stuck in first gear most of the time.

The second thing that gave me pause was Venice and its floods. The city's reputation is of a beautiful and civilized city. But, with regular floods of its piazzas and the "ground" floors of buildings? I can't imagine living in a house where I had to wade in the front door and go up a flight of stairs before I could remove my knee-high boots. (Of course, I can't imagine living in a flood plain either, but many people do. Meanwhile I live in a place where snow and cold dominate the weather for 5 months of the year.)

Maybe the next Donna Leon book I read will be told with better meter and in a different season.

Have you read Acqua Alta or another of Donna Leon's books? What did you think? Write and tell this little bit of the world about your experience.

Donna Leon interviewed at the Toronto Library

No comments: