Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Venetian Detective

Commisario Guido Brunetti does not match our current American literary detective formula: he’s a comfortably middle-aged family man with no real vices or afflictions. He’s not an alcoholic, not terribly haunted by trauma, not carrying a bullet in his skull or a genetic abnormality in his chromosomes. In fact, he’s kind of a regular guy, with a warm marriage to a woman who is not cheating on him and two teenagers who are not on drugs, suffering from mortal illness, or hiding gambling addictions. Moreover, it’s safe to say that he, his wife, and his children are not being stalked by serial killers or super villains of any kind.

Despite-- or more likely because of-- this, Donna Leon’s series stands out. Without a frenetic high-stakes struggle in every chapter, the pacing of the books allows the reader time to breathe, appreciate Venice, and enjoy Brunetti’s wry observations of Venetian life. This is not to say that the series is without action: in every case, Brunetti tracks down a murderer, and they tend to be uncooperative.

Leon, who was born in New Jersey, has lived in Venice for thirty years, and the culture comes across well in Brunetti’s voice. From the gondolas and canals to the weather and the peculiar blend of provincial and cosmopolitan attitudes, the reader gets a sense of another land. And yet the foreign intersects with the familiar, as Brunetti and his police are investigating crimes that arise from the common twists of the human mind: greed, jealousy, anger, lust, and madness.
There are currently 20 books in the series, in the following order:

Many are also available on audio through Library2Go.

Read an interview with Donna Leon at

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