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Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon
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Death at La Fenice (1992)

by Donna Leon

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Commissario Brunetti (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,069733,209 (3.61)221
  1. 10
    The Fallen Angel by David Hewson (bookmomo)
    bookmomo: Leon is more atmospherical, more into Italy. In Hewson one finds more action and flashiness.
  2. 01
    Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon (Smiler69)
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» See also 221 mentions

English (59)  Spanish (8)  German (3)  Dutch (2)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (73)
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
I have always enjoyed crime series that evoke and explore a particular place. To the long running, hard boiled 87th Precinct novels by Ed McBain and the comically observed Roman world of Marcus Didius Falco from Lindsey Davies I can now add the Venetian investigations of Commissario Guidi Brunetti courtesy of Donna Leon.

In all three of them it is the central characters and the meticulously described worlds, situated in both time and place, that tug our interest and intrigue as much as the crime. In some respects the criminal investigation acts simply as a plotting scaffold for this leisurely unpicking of human nature and social milieu.

I very much enjoyed this story. It was a well crafted scenario that was gradually revealed. Like Venice trapped in the winter missed morality seemed to wobble and fade as the back story to the opening death of conductor Helmut Wellauer, poisoned suddenly during a performance. Even as I understood the likely whodunnit before Brunetti the final reveal was fascinatingly complex. More a gradual almost imperceptible glimpse at human secrets rather than criminal mysteries. The story is allowed to wander and breathe beyond the plot, much as the Venetian police approach their task devoting more time to food, coffee, wine and family than the work of working out who and why. There is much more to see and say about Venice and her inhabitants to become too obsessed with mere procedure.

Consequently reading this book was a pleasure like wandering along a beautiful pebble beach, stopping to pick up and marvel at pebbles that glisten like gems such was my enjoyment of the many well observed and well crafted scenes, moments and phrases along the way. Leon has a way of prising open a character or emotion with small moments of elegantly, poetic prose. These invite your imagination in. This was a book I carried everywhere with me looking forward to any moment I could pull it out and luxuriate in its pages for a while.

I enjoyed reading about the 87th Precinct and Falco's Rome seeing the characters and societies change and grow old over time whilst investigating each individual crime episode and I hope reading the rest of this series will prove as pleasurable. Leon's tale also featured a delight in ridiculing the self important, empathy for those trapped in unenviable situations and sympathy for the tactics people use to get themselves through the day.

The novel hovers in time around the late eighties and early nineties and it is curious how quaint a world it seems before the pervasive connectivity of internetworked computers and mobile phones. The investigative techniques interviewing, walking, messages, gossip, slowly put together records would not be unfamiliar to investigators in Ancient Rome or 1950s American cities. It will be interesting to see whether the series remains suspended in this time outside the sphere of instant information or gradually incorporates a changing world. ( )
  culturion | Nov 21, 2014 |
I was pulled along well in reading the book, but found the ending something of a downer. ( )
  AmphipodGirl | Oct 14, 2014 |
Death at La Fenice is the first in Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti series of police procedurals. As first novels go, this one is competently written and plotted in such a way as to almost guarantee an interest in the books that follow. One of the things that sets this apart from other similar series is that the novels take place in Venice, which is almost a secondary character because of its unique microcosmic locale. Leon, an American, has lived there for many years and knows the city and its peculiarities — both geographic and social — almost as well as a native. This knowledge contributes uniquely to the texture of the novels.

La Fenice ("The Phoenix") is Venice's world renowned opera house. (Interestingly and as an aside, it had risen twice from the ashes prior to publication of this book in 1992, and then it burned down again in 1996 and has been dazzlingly rebuilt and restored to its former glory.)

La Traviata, as the novel opens, is being conducted by world famous conductor Helmut Wellauer. He departs the podium at the end of the second act, and that is the last time he is seen alive. When he does not return for act three, after a long pause, someone announces from the stage that the conductor was unable to continue and would be replaced.

Meanwhile, Commissario Brunetti is summoned to investigate the apparent murder of Maestro Wellauer by cyanide poisoning. As there were a thousand people in the theater that evening, there is no shortage of potential suspects.

The principal soloists, the stage director and the wife, who is present for the performance, are all questioned immediately. No one who had not been permitted back stage during the evening was seriously a suspect, so after the preliminary interviews, all were allowed to leave.

Because of the high profile of the crime, Vice-Questore Giuseppi Patta, Brunetti's boss and a man with social pretensions, loses no time in trying to intimidate Brunetti and even threatens to take him off the case when, the morning after the murder, Brunetti hadn't already solved the alleged crime! For anyone familiar with this series or the excellent German television productions, the bare mention of Patta will elicit smiles because he is, in fact, an officious buffoon. With pressure from above, on the one hand, and a collection of prima donna suspects on the other who are reluctant to talk, Brunetti must skillfully thread his way through the process of fact finding without ruffling feathers on either side.

Through many interviews, the collection of dossiers on the major suspects and a selective ear to gossip, Brunetti solves the mystery surrounding the poisoning of Maestro Wellauer.

As an addition to the police procedurals genre, Death at La Fenice is an entertaining quick read, which also doubles as a kind of travelogue, as Donna Leon never lets her readers forget where they are. ( )
  Poquette | Jul 30, 2014 |
Quite enjoyable. It started a bit slowly, perhaps, but it features a very likeable detective and a decent, if easy to figure out, plot. I thought it was nicely put together and will read more in the series.

If you enjoy mysteries and you like or are intrigued by Venice, this is a good choice. ( )
  Laura400 | Jul 2, 2014 |
When a renowned conductor dies of cyanide poisoning during the second intermission of La Traviata, the case falls to Commissario Guido Brunetti. In order to find out who killed the conductor and why, Brunetti must dig into his past. Could the motive have something to do with his rumored Nazi party membership during the war? Or maybe his known antipathy to homosexuals? Or something else altogether? In Venice, sometimes who you know is as important as what you know. Brunetti uses connections of family and friends to gather the information he needs to solve the case.

This book differs from many police procedurals since Brunetti spends more time interviewing witnesses and suspects than he does looking at forensic evidence and reading lab reports. In some ways it reads like an Agatha Christie novel dropped into an Italian setting. I enjoyed the musical angle to the plot, and I love the Venetian setting. I look forward to continuing with this series. ( )
  cbl_tn | Jun 29, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Donna Leonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Björklund, Ing-BrittTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Desmond, William OlivierTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elwenspoek, MonikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frogner, ElsaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fuente, Ana María de laTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Geer, LídiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gürdal, SinemTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ilić, BojanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Machado, Luciano VieiraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mejak, TeaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Navarro, KoroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olejniczak-Skarsgå… MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Patrum, NenadTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roig, EstherTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schuurman, TitiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith-Hansen, AstaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tandori, DezsőTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vanagienė, JoanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Ah, signor, son rea di morte
E la morte io sol vi chiedo;
Il mio fallo tardi vedo;
Con quel ferro un sen ferite
Che non merita pietà.


Ah, sir, I'm guilty to death
And all that I ask is death;
Too late I see my sin;
With your sword pierce this breast
Which merits no pity.

--Così Fan Tutte
Dedication
For my mother
First words
The third gong, announcing that the opera was about to continue, sounded discreetly through the lobbies and bars of Teatro La Fenice.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 006074068X, Paperback)

There is little violent crime in Venice, a serenely beautiful floating city of mystery and magic, history and decay. But the evil that does occasionally rear its head is the jurisdiction of Guido Brunetti, the suave, urbane vice-commissario of police and a genius at detection. Now all of his admirable abilities must come into play in the deadly affair of Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor who died painfully from cyanide poisoning during an intermission at La Fenice.

But as the investigation unfolds, a chilling picture slowly begins to take shape—a detailed portrait of revenge painted with vivid strokes of hatred and shocking depravity. And the dilemma for Guido Brunetti will not be finding a murder suspect, but rather narrowing the choices down to one. . . .

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:52 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

When renowned opera conductor Helmut Wellauer is found dead in his dressing room, the victim of cyanide poisoning, Guido Brunetti, the Vice Commissario of the Venice police, must sift through several suspects.

» see all 3 descriptions

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