Death at La Fenice: a Commissario Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon

I have reviewed other books in this series, and probably will indulge myself again in the future, because I find them endlessly fascinating. My excuse for this one is that it is the first book in the series, and as such deserves special attention.

It is not unusual for a writer to get a good idea, write a fairly successful novel based on it, and then improve as the series unfolds. In this case, Donna Leon really hit the ground running. All the elements of more recent books are already there: the upstanding but empathetic character of Brunetti; the lackadaisical attitude of the Italian police, exemplified by his ambitious superior; the social and architectural setting of Venice. Making the Fenice Opera House the main venue gives the story an even richer local grounding. Adding to the detective milieu is Brunetti’s family life: his wonderful relationship with his English-teaching wife; his two individualistic children; his problematic attitude towards his noble in-laws.

The only element missing is the inscrutable and talented Signorina Elettra, Internet guru and flower arranger. She is a treasure to be appreciated in later books.

The plot of this story involves the death by poison of a famous (and infamous) conductor during the second intermission of an opera. The usual drama of murder is exacerbated by the inflated personalities of the performers, and allows us a glimpse into the gilt-edged world of the opera and Italian high society. The final solution to the puzzle is as creative as any I have read.

So, while this is a series that allows the reader to enter at any story, going back to this first novel at a later date will not be a disappointment; it is just as strong as the rest.

Recommended for Donna Leon and Detective Mystery fans, and everyone else. Five stars out of five.


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