Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon
Do you ever have a sudden yen to read a particular book. Maybe it is one you spot on your bookshelves, or, like me, you spot a copy in your new local bookshop and remember the enjoyment of the first time you read it. A lot of the books I read on the blog are steeped in nostalgia. But can you ever go back? I'm pleased to report that in the case of Donna Leon, yes you can and enjoy it even more!
The Plot (from the Back of the Book)
The twisted maze of Venice's canals has always been shrouded in mystery. Even the celebrated opera house, La Fenice, has seen its share of death. But nothing so horrific and violent as that of world-famous conductor, maestro Helmut Wellauer - poisoned during a performance of La Traviata.
Even Comissario of Police, Guido Brunetti, used to the labyrinthine corruptions of the city, is shocked at the number of enemies Wellauer has made on the way to the top - but just how many have motive enough for murder?
The beauty of Venice is crumbling - and evil can seep through its decaying stones...
A quick note, this is the first novel to feature Guido Brunetti, of which there are roughly 20-odd books. You can read each of these as a stand alone novel, but I would start at the beginning just for the full immersive experience.
In a word, these are a wonderful set of novels. And reading this 30 years after the publication date, I was struck by how much this novel is a feast for all the 5 senses. We hear the soaring voices of La Traviata. We witness the grand old lady herself, Venice, so beautifully described in her faded glory as to feel the touch of crumbling stone or dense fog that engulfs the city.
My favourite sense that is tickled is taste. Be it Guido making a cup of thick, strong and sweet black coffee or a suspect interview conducted at an exclusive restaurant where the owner chooses which delicacies you will eat and drink. It all feels just so alive.
Guido is gentle, balancing the political machinations of the city and ambition of his boss. How quickly this superior moderates his language from you to we to I depending on the success of the investigation.
Donna Leon's writing is sublime - the first chapter containing the sights and sounds of opening night at the Opera, exemplified by the line 'Here a jewel flashed, a mink cape was adjusted over a naked shoulder or an infinitesimal speck of dust was flicked from a satin lapel'. Beautiful, immersing us fully into Venetian society.
The crime itself is ingenious, the ending satisfying. We follow Guido throughout the case, building a picture of who Wellauer was. Guido intelligently negotiates his way through Venetian society. the right people to speak to, those with the best gossip.
As soon as I saw this, I knew I wanted to read all about Guido again and the novel did not disappoint. I'm already adding the next novels onto my Christmas list. So if you want an intriguing. crime set in a beautiful European city, and wish to feel hungry for delicately made Italian food, then pick this up immediately. It is wonderful.
I will be back tomorrow, with my wrap up for the month and an important announcement for Christmas!