A year ago my friend Iris recommended Death at La Fenice (which I reviewed on April 14, 2016). It's the first novel in Donna Leon's internationally acclaimed Commissario Brunetti mystery series. I began the book not knowing what to expect and by the time I arrived at the last page I was hooked.
Blood From A Stone (published 2004) is book fourteen in the series and it's another remarkable read. Blood From a Stone is set in Venice (all the Brunetti mysteries are) and tbe novel begins with the murder of a young street vendor from Senegal, West Africa. A week before Christmas he is at Campo Santo Stefano, a city street in Venice, along with a few of his friends selling counterfeit handbags. Two men in overcoats and hats walk up to the young man and shoot him. They leave the other vendors alone. Commissario Brunetti arrives at the scene and begins interviewing the tourists. He doesn't get much information because the killers dissappeared before the tourists could describe them in detail.
Brunetti has no idea who the young man is or why anyone would want to kill him. He also realizes that like many in Venice he knows very little about the African immigrant vendors who sell their goods at the market. It's a closed community and Brunetti is finding it impossible to get anyone to talk. The mystery takes a dramatic turn when Brunetti locates the room the dead man was renting and finds a fortune in diamonds. The rest of the mystery tells us about the diamond trade and how its being used to support civil wars in Africa and how governments are turning a blind eye. Many of Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti novels are topical with regard to what is happening in the news, so reading her can be an educational experience. Ms Leon conveys the city of Venice wonderfully, the people, the culture, the food, the history. She knows Venice and has lived there for decades.
But we Donna Leon fans keep returning to the Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries for Brunetti himself. It's hard to explain what makes him so interesting. In many respects he's not out of the ordinary. Happilly married to his wife Paola, a University Professor. They have two teenagers. Brunetti is an intelligent, thoughtful principled man. He's cultured, enjoys the opera, books, good food and wines. He drinks a great deal of coffee (which tempted me while reading the book to take up the habit myself). Brunetti is a very good detective, dogged in solving the case despite what the higher ups might say. But I think what it really boils down to is that Brunetti is a great character because Donna Leon is a great writer. Start with the first book in the series Death at La Fenice and I think you will agree.