Sunday, 3 October 2010

Donna Leon & the Commissario Brunetti Mysteries

I enjoy reading almost any genre of literature. I have tended to focus on certain types depending on my age, where we lived, what I was doing; my sci fi period, my adventure/ war period, etc.

Of late, that being the past few years, I've found myself more drawn to mysteries. I don't know why particularly, maybe it's the trying to solve the crime, the varied types of crime novel, the different locations. Pick any of the above. But usually when I hit a book store nowadays, the first place I head is the mystery section.

One of my favourite mystery authors (call it one of my Top Ten) is Donna Leon. She has written a series of novels, based on a Venice Police Commissario, Guido Brunetti. As of 2010, according to wikipedia anyway, she had written 19 novels. Searching back into my foggy memory, I think I noticed her novels one day when I went to one of my favourite local book stores, The Laughing Oyster, in Courtenay. Looking to see if there were any new authors that might attract my attention I was drawn to the book jackets of Donna Leon's stories. They are simple, but the colours stand out. I often find that's the first thing to attract my attention (look at Laurel K Hamilton's paperbacks as a perfect example). Now that my attention was caught, I, of course, read the jackets of those available and the summary was interesting enough to make me buy one as a sample.

I don't remember which was the first purchase, but over the past couple of years I've bought 12 of the series and finished 7; Acqua Alta, Death and Judgement, Uniform Justice, A Noble Radiance, Doctored Evidence, Death in a Strange Country, and Death at La Fenice. At one time, once I got started with a particular series, I would avoid any other authors until I had finished the one I was hooked on. Now I tend to vary author, genre, etc, just for variety sake. They last longer that way and get to savour them.

What is it that attracts me to the Donna Leon stories? There are so many things; firstly, because they are so well written. They aren't action mysteries, even though the crimes are often violent. They are well-paced, allowing for a wonderful look into Commissario Brunetti's family life, providing a view of Venice that displays it's vibrancy, but also the decay and the corruption. I enjoy just sitting in a cafe with Guido, savouring the Italian meals he has there, or those wonderful meals he shares with his family; his wife Paola, and his two children. He has a slow methodical pace to solving crimes, generally relying on his intuition to come up with solutions.

One of my favourite characters is the lovely, mysterious Signorina Elletra, secretary to Guido's boss, Vice Questore Patta. She is too smart for her job, at least, as Guido and his Sergeants seem to think, but she seems to love assisting them in gathering information to help them with their cases. She has a knack for gaining electronic access to people's banking and personal information, has contacts all over the government. There is no hint of any type of romantic interest between Brunetti and the Signorina; not when he's happily married to Paola, but there is definite admiration for her cool skills at gathering information and her ability to deflect the Vice Questore's demands and criticism.

It's a joy to sit back with one of Donna Leon's novels, share her vision of Venice and Italy. The Commissario is an honourable man in a society that seems rife with corruption. He is worn down by years of solving crime, but I hope he never tires too much as his crime solving always satifies me.

I have wondered who would play Commissario Brunetti were his stories ever put to film. Wikipedia does say that 16 of the mysteries have been put to film by German television, but my German is a bit rusty. I picture him as being played by Omar Sharif, although he is probably too old now. Maybe Giancarlo Giannini would suit the role. I think that a series of Commissario Brunetti mysteries on Masterpiece Mystery would be as popular and long lasting as many of the Poirot or Lewis mysteries.

If you've never read a Donna Leon mystery, try one. You'll love them!

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