Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Venetian mysteries

This summer I've immersed myself in Venice. Specifically, in the wonderful Commisario Guido Brunetti mystery series by the extremely talented author Donna Leon. I can't get enough of these books.

Set in modern day Venice, they star the astute, sophisticated, yet sensitive and oddly humble police detective Guido Brunetti, who loves art, architecture, good food, wine, and books about ancient wars. Though the mysteries themselves are exciting whodunits, I read these books mainly for the evocative setting.

There are paragraphs and pages of Guido wandering the streets of Venice, going up and down its narrow alleyways, stopping for a glass of wine and a mineral water at a cafe, or taking a vaporetto to a palazzo to interview a suspect. I feel privileged to tag along on these tours. This series is just like "Law & Order," except it's not. I love the contrast between the familiar police procedural against the exotic backdrop of Venice, where the police take police boats, or "launches," to crime scenes instead of squad cars, and the vagaries of Italian life are examined in all their wonderful idiosyncratic glory.

And all the descriptions of the food! Fresh pasta with shaved truffles, liver with polenta, lamb with rosemary and red wine. There isn't a chapter that goes by where Leon doesn't offer up loving descriptions of all kinds of delicious dishes, resulting in me raiding the fridge afterwards. These books make me hungry.

At the end, though I've never been, I feel like I now know Venice really, really well. Palazzo Roma, Murano, The Lido, the market at Rialto - they seem like old friends.

Run, don't walk, to Amazon or your nearest local public library. I promise you'll end up gobbling them all in one sitting like I did.

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