Donna Leon’s best detective novel in the Commissario Brunetti series

donna leon

NOW I UNDERSTAND why so many people are crazy about Donna Leon’s detective fiction! Death in a Strange Country, published in 1993, was the second in her series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice Police, and it’s nothing short of brilliant. It’s the best detective novel she’s written, at least among those I’ve read to date. I’d made the mistake of reading her latest offering in the series, the twenty-fourth, Falling in Love, which I found unworthy of her reputation. Death in a Strange Country redeems her in my eyes.

Death in a Strange Country (Commissario Brunetti #2) by Donna Leon (2008) 401 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)

The story in this novel revolves around two murder mysteries and a robbery, all of which Brunetti is assigned to solve. A young man, probably an American, is found dead floating in the water of a Venice canal. He may, or may not, be the victim of a robbery. Later, a young American doctor at a U.S. Army base outside a town near Venice is found dead in her quarters, dead of a heroin overdose. Finally, the Venice palace of a Milano industrialist is burgled and its owner sent to the hospital from a beating. In all three cases, Brunetti smells a story that would rule out the obvious explanation. His investigation of all these mysteries is hemmed in by his boss, a feckless and lazy Sicilian with a fancy title who is interested only in pleasing the powers that be and taking credit for any discoveries made by defying his orders.

Donna Leon has lived in Venice for twenty-five years. Her books have been translated into many languages — but not, at her request, into Italian. The true subject of Death in a Strange Country is corruption. Leon’s depiction of Italian society and especially the Italian criminal justice system is unsparing. Little wonder that she has resisted the translation of her novels into the local language!

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