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Death at La Fenice ? Commissario Brunetti
Donna Leon
Harper 2004 paperback

Death at La Fenice is the first of the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery novels by Donna Leon. The format is the classic police procedural. Part of the charm of this novel is the Venice setting and Leon s seemingly intimate knowledge of Italian culture. Death at La Fenice is a strong first novel but the ending is weak.

Legendary German conductor is found dead after the intermission of La Traviata at the La Fenice Venice opera house. Suspects include the diva and her lover and anybody in Hemlut Wellauer s Nazi Germany past. Commissario Guido Brunetti is put in charge of the investigation. Brunetti is the strongest element in this story.

Donna Leon excels at the procedural aspect of this mystery and in its setting. Where some novels in this genre give the impression everybody is dragging their feet, Brunetti is always active and the investigation progresses at a good pace. The author also paints a discreet but informed picture of Venice. What she is best at are the more societal aspects of Venetian and Italian life such as the chain of command and how people interact according to their past and situation.

Death At La Fenice is a good read. The ending however leaves something to be desired. It is mostly set up in the last third of the novel and feels a bit rushed and like an afterthought.

This Commissario Brunetti mystery still makes for a good read and this is a promising series.