Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: Death in a Strange Country

Author: Donna Leon
Format: 8 discs (9+ hrs), 304 page equivalent
Characters: Guido & Paola Brunetti, assorted cops and criminals
Subject: murder, corruption
Setting: Venice and environs
Series: Commissario Brunetti
Genre: detective fiction
Source: public library
Challenge: Audio Books, Support your public library

In this episode of the Commissario Brunetti series, Guido Brunetti is called to investigate the body of an American soldier found floating in the canals of Venice.  The soldier is stationed at Vicenza, over an hours train ride away.  Brunetti feels he is not getting honest answers from the Americans he interviews, and feels he is being rushed to come up with a 'death by mugging' verdict that doesn't seem to fit. At the same time, he is also called to deal with the 'theft' of three priceless paintings from a wealthy business man's palazzo.  Eyewitness accounts of the crime don't seem to match the victim's account.

And the plot gets messier and murkier.  NO SPOILERS.  It's a great mystery, with compassionate, intelligent, educated and urbane characters.  Leon gives us an inside look at corruption at all levels of the justice system, as well as poignant vignettes of regional dialects and characters. This series reminds me quite a bit of Leighton Gage's series featuring Inspector Mario Silva. Both Silva and Brunetti are well-educated and almost aristocratic in their thinking, but at the same time they are entirely sympathetic and caring about all the people on whose behalf they are supposed to be fighting crime. Another detective that comes to mind in this same vein is Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley. The Brunetti series is fast becoming my favorite, and I'm already trying to figure out how I'm going to get to Venice to visit the scene.

My only minus to this particular audio was the narrator.  I have listened to several others in this series all done by David Colacci, but this one was done by Anna Fields and while I've been pleased with other books she's read, her voice just didn't do it for me on this one.  Brunetti is a macho hunky male, and part of the joy of listening to these has been Colacci's wonderful ability to use Italian dialect and accents for all of Leon's diverse characters.  The female voice detracted from the story for me, but it is a measure of Leon's great writing that it didn't deter me from finishing it.  I even got in an extra 20 minutes in the pool because I wanted to finish listening to it!


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