1 November 2017 Susannah

Crime in Venice

Donna Leon, Commissario Brunetti Series

I have just finished reading the last of Donna Leon’s series of crime novels set in Venice. For years now there has always been another book featuring the delightful Guido Brunetti and his family to look forward to, but now I’ve read the most recent and will have to wait for Donna Leon to write more (the next one, The Temptation of Forgiveness is due out next year).

Statue of Carlo Goldoni

The statue of Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni which Brunetti admires for being “perpetually dapper”.

It is not easy to keep a series of books going on and on. Each novel must offer something different and interesting, while keeping ‘in character’, yet must provide the same quality of experience that the previous books have supplied. So far Donna Leon has produced 26 novels and the quality has been remarkably even. In Venice last month I took my literary tour group on a Guido Brunetti walk. We saw the building where he lives (Donna has often visited the upper apartment there), some of the cafes where he has a glass of grappa or a quick bite before rushing off to solve a crime, and the gorgeous statue of Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni where Guido used to meet up with Paola in their days of courtship.

If you have not yet read any of the novels, the first one is Death at Le Fenice. I prefer to read a series in the correct order, to follow the progress of his family and his colleagues, but you can read them out of order.

Have you enjoyed reading this series? Or can you recommend another series that I should try? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

   Death at Le Fenice by Donna Leon
   Earthly Remains by Donna Leon

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Featured image credit- Donna Leon, Commissario Brunetti Series by Susannah Fullerton
Body image credit- the statue of Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni which Brunetti admires for being “perpetually dapper,” by Susannah Fullerton

Comments (18)

  1. Chris Browne

    Hi Susannah

    I agree absolutely that the Brunetti series by Donna Leon is currently the best long running series of what I like to call “Intelligent cultural crime novels”. What all of these have in common is that the social, historical and cultural landscapes are at least as important as the crimes!

    My other favourites are:

    “Flavia de Luce” series by Alan Bradley
    “Bruno Chief of Police” series by Martin Walker
    “Josephine Tey” series by Nicola Upson
    “Maisie Dobbs” series by Jaqueline Windspear

    Also to be highly recommended are the Aurelio Zen series of 11 novels by the late Michael Dibdin, the
    Sjowall and Wahloo series of the ten ‘Martin Beck novels, from the 1960s and 1970s and the Dutch police series by Jan Willem van der Wettering.

    Chris Browne

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I love your list, Chris and have enjoyed all those series enormously. My absolute favourite mystery series of all time is C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series set in London in the time of Henry VIII, so you should try those books. I do feel that Alan Bradley has gone off a bit – they were so fabulous at the beginning, but the last two have been poor, I thought.
      I have not read the Jan Willem van der Wettering ones you mention. Who is the author?

      • Chris Browne

        Hi Susannah

        Janwillen van der Wetering (1931-2008) was the author of a series of 14 books published by Gollancz in the UK between 1975 and 1996. His ‘heroes’ are a pair of Dutch policemen, called Grijpstra and de Gier, who are based in Amsterdam under the command of an unnamed, elderly, arthritic but avuncular Commisaris.

        Van der Wetering was a Zen Buddist, and much of this philosophy infuses the stories, and the character of de Gier. Both men are also frustrated musicians. The first book in the series is called “Outsider in Amsterdam” and the best, or at least my favourite, is probably “The Japanese Corpse”.
        The whole series is highly recommended (by Vivien and me) and offers a more optimistic view of society than the Sjowall and Wahloo series.

        Regards Chris

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Thanks for giving me further details, Chris. They sound excellent and I will definitely look for them.

  2. Janice Gentle

    Hi. I had a shudder of fear when you wrote ‘the last’. But i was very relieved when i found that you meant ‘the latest’. I think i have read all of the novels. Part of the interest is that she often deals with a social problem – e.g. pollution, ‘illegal’ immigrants etc. I enjoy having a detective who is happily married, doesn’t drink too much etc. The other common feature of detective stories is a difficult, usually stupid, boss, which is here but dealt with well. And of course the delicious [is her name Ellectore’? – Patta’s super-secretary] with her flowers and clothes and all her various skills.

    I’m sure that detective story readers will be grateful to be introduced to her books.

    Oh – may i add that U3A’s festival at the Carrington in February will be on detective fiction. Listed in the July 2017 course guide, page 8.

    A fan,
    Janice

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t Signorina Elletra fabulous, with her computer efficiency and her gorgeous outfits. Yes, I also love the way Donna Leon brings in topical issues, such as the dying out of bees, or water pollution. And Superintendant Patta is great fun to hate. I didn’t know about the event at the Carrington – thanks for telling me.
      And I am also glad this is not the ‘last’ newsletter – hopefully plenty more still to come.

  3. Terry Maunsell

    Another series I like is those set in the Eastern Townships near Montreal featuring Inspector Gamache written by Louise Penny

  4. Penny Nash

    Hi Suannah,
    I have read all the Donna Leon books since I ‘found’ her about ten years ago. The tour in Venice sounds fascinating. Do you include the camel relief that is mentioned in one of the books? Brunetti passes it in a hurry in one of the books (not to my hand just at this moment).
    Other series that may be of interest are the Magdeline Nabb books, set in Florence with a detective as a main character, and like Leon presents facets of Floretine Life.
    The series by Simon Brett with his main character Charles Paris, an actor of dubious talent and a solver of crimes, is a witty takeoff of theatre and television.
    These two writers may be harder to find now.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks Penny, I will look out for Magdeline Nabb who I have never heard of. I have read one of Simon Brett’s, which I enjoyed.
      No, I did not include the camel in Venice. I cannot remember that, so perhaps have to go back and re-read the Donna Leons. Too many books, not enough time.

  5. I am also an avid reader of the Donna Leon Commissario Brunetti series – I have read them all and am looking forward to the next one in the series. How wonderful to be able to do a Brunetti walk in Venice.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It was great fun seeing Venice through his eyes and eating lunch in one of his favourite cafes.

  6. Valerie Weldrick

    Lawrence Block is a writer I have discovered this year. He is well out of my usual field of reading, but I am really enjoying his “burglar” series. Bernie Rhodenbarr, who solves the crimes, is an antiquarian bookseller – and also a burglar. The books are very New York, very ingenious, and very funny. There are many literary references. There are quite a few titles, and I haven’t read a dud yet. Block has written many other books, but I have only read the burglar ones.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      A solver of crimes, a bookseller and a burglar!! Sounds most intriguing and I will look for them. Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. Hi Susannah,
    I am also a fan of Louise Penny, her Chief Inspector Gamache is a delight, he is a happily married man, an intelligent soul who studies human nature. His team are all interesting in their own right. The setting of the novels is mostly in a village called Three Pines and if there was such a place I would visit it, to not only meet the fantastic villagers, but to eat at the Bistro, the food described makes my mouth water. Perry weaves social issues into her stories, her plots are more involved than Leon’s and while each of the books is a stand alone story there is an arc that progresses throughout each book.

    Carol

  8. Wendy Cayless

    I also like the Qiu Xiaolong novels set in Shanghai. Like Brunetti, Inspector Chen is a philosopher by nature, a lover of good food and a gentle soul. The novels also deal with various aspects of Chinese society and history.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks so much for the recommendation. I’m always on the look-out for good crime novels.

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