Sara's Reviews > Death at La Fenice

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon
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Aug 10, 11

Read in August, 2011

I'm not much of a mystery reader, but I suspect this isn't really of the caliber of an Agatha Christie or Alexander McCall Smith. The writing is stilted as if it had been translated from another language (it hasn't). The characters are fully fleshed out in a way that's nice -- except for our sleuth Commissario Brunetti, who seems oddly unmotivated. His main psychological repertoire involves feeling awkward and wondering about why he's wondering about something. I'm not sure precisely how much of a mystery book should be devoted to solving a mystery, but this one feels like only about a quarter of the book really involved any sort of mystery. That wasn't enough for me.

Still. I picked this up because I was lucky enough to go to Rome last year, where I had the fleeting impression that, wow, Italy is really different culturally from the world I know. And a mystery series set entirely in modern-day Venice seems like it would yield a few pleasurable glimpses of that culture, without requiring me to read enormous history books or research how the hell Silvio Berlusconi ever got elected. And for those purposes the book was -- well, on the one hand it was nice, with lots of gossipy details about Italian corruption, nepotism, and regional prejudice. On the other hand, it just made me suspicious that I was consuming a lot of one-dimensional stereotypes, and not actually learning anything about Italy at all. At least I hear the author's grip on Venetian architecture and geography is dead-on accurate. Big props to the Goodreads reviewer who admitted to reading this book while tracking the main character through Google Earth.

Eh. I'd try to read one or two more in the series just to see if it gets better. The Venice setting was more compelling than I expected.
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