Venice is for lovers, or so they say. It is also the setting in this thriller, the first of a series by Donna Leon, titled "Death at La Fenice."
La Fenice is the name of Venice's famed opera house and in this novel, death is the event de jour, as a well-known German conductor Helmut Wellauer is found dead in his dressing room, shortly before he was to conduct "La Traviata." Of course, the show must go on. Of course, the police must be called.
And we are introduced to Guido Brunetti, vice-commissario of police in Venice. He's also a brilliant detective. With suspects galore, Brunetti finds the early going to be confusing and not all what the "facts" may seem.
In Brunetti, Donna Leon has created the quintessential police detective. He is a man whom we are proud to call an acquaintance as we follow his trail in all the Leon books. She describes him: "He was a surprisingly neat man: tie carefully knotted, hair shorter than was the fashion; even his ears lay close to his head, as if reluctant to call attention to themselves. His clothing marked him as Italian. The cadence of his speech announced that he was Venetian. His eyes were all policeman."
Leon, in addition to being a first rate novelist, has been an American English teacher aboard, and healthy international sales have made her vision of Venice well known. She seems to love the city, but with an attitude that shows her feet are on the ground. She lets Brunetti characterize the city: "And then he was at the water's edge, the bridge to his right. How typically Venetian it was, looking, from a distance, lofty and ethereal but revealing itself, upon closer reflection, to be firmly grounded in the mud of the city."
One of the chief suspects is diva and prima donna soprano Flavia Petrelli, who certainly has motive, and is high on Brunetti's list. Flavia, along with her American archeologist and companion Brett Lynch, present more than a conundrum to Brunetti. (We are re-introduced to them in a later book "Acqua Alta.") This is no easy crime for the commissario to solve.
Leon creates, certainly, one of the best police procedurals of the last decade. Her books are hard to come by in the U.S., but she has a large following in international circles, especially in Germany and in England. While it is not necessary to read her books in order, naturally, her progression moves more smoothly when done so. "Death at La Fenice" is pure symphony and not a note is to be missed.