Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Death at La Fenice" by Donna Leon

I am not sure why, but I have been dragging my feet about reading the two murder mysteries that Joyce loaned to me most recently. I have such a good bunch of books to choose from every time I'm ready to start a new one. This is both good and bad; it's wonderful to have a great selection, but it's so hard to choose just one! But I hate to keep books that have been loaned to me for too long, so it's time I tackle them.

Here's one big difference between this book and Agatha Christie's mysteries: in a Christie book, I find myself suspecting just about every single character at one time or another. In fact, if I ever "guess" the murderer, it really doesn't count because I probably guessed everyone else too. This book is the opposite, because throughout most of it, I guessed no one. It sounded like there were three main suspects (the wife, the opera singer, and the opera singer's lover), but none of them seemed guilty to me. In real life it would have been the wife. But I really hoped it would turn out to be someone entirely different.

Although I suspected no one, I sure sniffed out a lot of false trails. First I thought maybe Wellauer's second wife's death might have been a murder rather than a suicide. I also thought maybe the conductor was killed before his "last performance," and an imposter (of course, the murderer--or at least an accomplice) conducted in his stead, which would explain his lack of talent after years of genius. I found myself waiting for a second murder to occur. Then, when it came out that Wellauer hadn't done a good job during rehearsals either, and that he perked up during a crescendo, and his doctor knew he had suffered slight hearing loss several months earlier, I thought he had experienced sudden and devastating deafness, which would explain the poor quality of his recent conducting; and that he killed himself, which would solve the "murder." Really, though, I hoped all of my guesses were wrong and that I would be utterly surprised (but only if the solution were completely logical and exceedingly clever). And I won't tell you which of my ideas I was right or wrong about, because there is no more sure way to ruin a murder mystery than to know "whodunit" before you even read the book, but I will say I didn't guess everything.

I love the way the main character, Brunetti, treats his boss, Patta, for whom he does not have an excess of respect. Brunetti is perfectly polite and correct in his conversations with Patta, but he answers his questions literally or gives ridiculously obvious replies, playing dumb just to get on Patta's nerves. The boss isn't smart enough to see through Brunetti, and I believe that Patta actually thinks Brunetti really is a little bit stupid. It's so subversive.

I was a little bit insulted by the comment in the book that "the American government seemed to fare well with a population that wanted [censorship of the press]." I can't figure out where the author got this idea, and I would love to hear more from her about it. As soon as I read this I thought, "Who is this author, to think such a thought? Is she an American insulting her own people, or is she some other nationality?" I turned to the synopsis about her (which was hiding from me in the front of the book, rather than being in the back where it belonged) and found that she is American but is basically what I would consider an expatriate, having lived in many different countries, including Venice for the past twenty years. Of course, now that I think about it, I do recall friends of mine who have lived both in and out of the country lamenting the amount of world news that is regularly disseminated in America (i.e., not enough). I wonder if that is the same sort of thing Leon was referring to. Anyway,
I was mollified somewhat when she insulted Germans too, by mentioning a "Germanic ability to remove truth simply by ignoring it." I have no idea whether this is true or not, but it made me feel better that the author was not taking potshots at Americans alone.

This was a good book, well-written and enjoyable, but it took me a week to read it. This normally indicates one of two things: either it's a longer book, or I never really got very excited about reading it. This book was 270 pages. You do the math.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy,

This is a very old thread that I stumbled on whilst trying to figure out why Donna Leon is so anti American. If you were offended by that statement in her very first book, you should take a look at her mean spirited vitriol about Americans in her nonfiction book entitled "My Venice" I can not sumarize all of her offensive statements about how fat, oily, ignorant, ect we are. I was so offended I will not buy another book by her. Happy reading.