Death at La Fenice, published 1992, is the first book in Donna Leon's internationally acclaimed and bestselling Guido Brunetti mystery series. Commissario Brunetti is a Venetian Detective and all of the novels in the series are set in present day Venice where he lives and works. As my friend Iris who recommended Death at La Fenice said to me, the city of Venice becomes a character itself. I value Iris' opinion and she is right. Venice, the people, the politics, the food, the culture, makes this novel worth reading.
But ultimately any mystery series rises and falls on the lead detective. If we bond with the detective, private investigator etc we are going to want to follow him or her into book two, three, four in the series. People keep coming back to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels because of Hercule Poirot and since there are currently twenty five Guido Brunetti novels in the series and fans have yet to tire of him I would say Ms Leon has done her job well.
As to why I became smitten with Commissario Brunetti it's hard to pinpoint. Above all Donna Leon is a talented writer. But also, too many sleuths in mystery novels these days are loners, alcoholics, fighting with their ex wives or their supervisors and the actual mystery can play second fiddle. Not so in Death at La Fenice. The mystery of who poisoned the famous conductor Helmut Wellauer during a concert at the Venice opera house remains front and center.
But as Commissario Brunetti walks around the city (Venice is a city designed for walking) interviewing witnesses and suspects we get to learn a bit about him. Brunetti is happily married for seventeen years to his wife Paola, a university professor. They have two teenage children. Brunetti is thoughtful, intelligent. He knows about philosophy, music, books. He has a cynical side partly due to his job as a police officer but also as Leon seems to say its a trait he shares with everyone in Venice a cynicism about the government, the church, the newspapers. He cares about his job, and though he deals with crime and murder his home life is a happy one but he is not boring. And Ms Leon takes care in creating the other characters who populate Death at LaFenice as well.
It's a great thing to find a new author who keeps you turning the pages. And even better to find a great new mystery series so that you will have books in reserve to look forward to when life gets stressful or you are feeling down. I suspect Detective Brunetti, the city of Venice and I will be spending alot of time together in the years to come. Thank you Iris! I highly recommend Death at La Fenice.