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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Acqua Alta. Donna Leon. Pan Books (1997)

This is an excellent and very atmospheric crime story set in Venice. Brett Lynch is brutally attacked and given a warning. She is an expert on Chinese ceramics and a friend of Commissario Guido Brunetti. As Brunetti investigates the attack there is a second murder. The murder victim is the Director of an important museum and apparently deeply involved in the theft of important items and their replacement by well made fakes. He was the man Brett Lynch was warned not to meet with when she was attacked. The investigation is pursued through the winding streets of Venice and the ambivalent attitudes of the Italian public and bureaucracy to criminal activity. The story unfurls in a very engaging manner before seamlessly revealing the very unpleasant savagery that lies at the heart of large scale criminality.
Donna Leon has managed to carry out a very difficult task, she has write a story which contains a very abrupt change of tone without it jarring in any way. The threat had been carefully implied, emerging into the spotlight it is horrifyingly credible. What is very striking is how this does not unbalance the book, the writing is skillful enough to have set up the reader without ever being obvious about it.
Venice itself is one of the major characters in the book, the smallness of the city and the ebbing and flowing of the water are very nicely presented as being taken for granted by the native cast. Guido Brunetti is a warmly engaging character, he has a stable and believable personal life, he is confident and professional at work. The rest of the cast are very well drawn, the impact of the crimes on the lives of the cast is thoughtfully explored and depth to the story.This is first rate crime fiction.

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