Sunday, March 18, 2007

Deaths in Venice

Me, I don't like detective novels; often there is lots of violence, terrible writing (some woman author from Ayrshire is a successful but not good writer), and not very nice detectives (eg Inspector Rebus). Also they are generally quick to read and that makes them not very good value for money for me who has to carry them around the world.

I do watch some of them on TV, however. German TV, which I get in Lithuania, has, I am sure, a higher deathrate than the German population. 'Morse' of course was always wonderful to watch.

Here's another one - Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti. I first came across this on German TV which had turned the books into films, with so far two actors playing Brunetti (Uwe Kokisch, the one in the picture is the sexier of the two!). Just noticed that it will be on TV which I can receive, just after Easter!

It should be mentioned here that Donna Leon is an American English teacher (lecturer? professor? - I don't think she teaches 'American English'; her writing language has a bit of that, eg 'parking lot', but it's not too intrusive) by trade, who has taught all over the world, though most recently, and for some time, in Venice. I believe she was thrown out of Iran (or chose to leave) when her teachings attracted disfavour. In her other life she also has a passionate interest in music, particularly baroque opera (which means that she must be serious about music; here's a CD she seems to have put together), and in German a book on her writings on different topics, including music, has come out. One of her books is about the death of the lover an opera singer, in another I found a quote from Handel's 'Messiah', and the one I am reading is prefaced by a quote from Mozart's 'Lucio Silla'. That gives her lots of brownie points!

The Commissario, like Donna Leon herself, is based in Venice. Those shots of Venice, with the commissario rushing here, there and everywhere on a little canal boat - ahhhh! Not everyone likes Venice, I understand, and I have never been there, but it's tempting.

Like Morse, Brunetti operates in a very delightful environment, and every now and again even Brunetti is stopped by the sheer beauty of the place. It would be really good to read the books (there's a series) with a map of Venice in your hand. Like Morse, Brunetti is also highly educated, reading Tacitus for pleasure of an evening. Unlike Morse, however, he is married to an English lecturer and has two children. (Italian and British family structures here?). Furthermore, Brunetti loves his food and wine, and has the opportunity to go home for lunch most days, where his wife has usually prepared a sumptious repast, unless she is engrossed in Henry James's letters. These meals and their ingredients are described in great detail in the books, including the sources of the ingredients. The books are dripping with Italian words and phrases...in a way which reminds of that scene with Jamie Lee Curtis and John Cleese in 'A Fish called Wanda'....

Anyway, the Commissario and his sidekick, Vianello, battle against the forces of evil in Italian society, always involving a murder or two, but also usually linking to the Mafia or other corrupt practices. In this they are supported by the delightful Signorina Elletra, the secretary of Brunetti's boss, who somehow, by calling favours on her very large and extended family, is able to find data on anyone and anything. Brunetti's boss (played in the films by the similarly sexy, but older, Michael Degen) is rather less helpful, being much more concerned with his status in society, and with making sure that Brunetti does not upset important people - which he inevitably does.

The books beautifully, and teasingly, describe life in Italy, including frustrations with communications systems, the people 'from the south' (Mafia), dealing with public bodies, and current social situations (eg illegal immigrants in one book, issues with transvestites in another book). The deaths are fairly tastefully described, and generally they do not give an impression of great haste or urgency, but problems are solved sedately and usually, but not always, effectively (Brunetti also sometimes comes up against the barrier of 'national security').

The book I've just read, 'Pressed for Death' has a slight logic gap in that Brunetti's mother seems to be in the severe grip of Alzheimers, when in fact a few books later she is very lively and active, but perhaps this may have been the first book (written in 1994, where Signorina Elletra pops up for the first time) when Leon had not realised that they were going to take on a life of their own.

Although these are quickly read books - the lines are well spaced and the font not too small - I see them as the icing on my cake of books to read, and keep them as a reward. Unfortunately I have probably read about half of them.....They are great for a plane journey of about 3-4 hours plus waiting time!