Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon: A review

I read a lot of mysteries on our recent vacation. This was one of them.

This was the second in Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti series.  Although two is not a large sample, I am very much enjoying these stories so far. Brunetti is a very likable chap and I especially enjoy his relationship with his family and the fact that the family is shown as an integral part of his life. It's not something one always finds in one's favorite fictional detectives and it gives an added resonance to the tales. 

The death referred to in the title is the death of an American soldier stationed at a nearby base at Vicenza. His body is found floating in a Venetian canal. He had been stabbed and it appears that his death may have been the result of a mugging gone wrong. But Brunetti finds reasons to be skeptical of that explanation.

Sgt. Michael Foster was a public health inspector at the army base and Guido suspects that his death may somehow be related to his job. Perhaps he had uncovered problems related to public health that those in authority did not want brought to the attention of the media and the public.

Brunetti travels to Vicenza, talks to Foster's commander, who it turns out was also his lover, and his sense of uneasiness that something is very wrong with the whole situation grows. Returning to Venice, he learns from his blustering boss, Vice-Quetore Patta, that the case is to be closed and it will go into the books as a mugging gone wrong because that's what those in power want. 

Brunetti is incensed by the miscarriage of justice, even more so when he continues to follow clues and learns what it may be that Foster had uncovered: a conspiracy among the U.S. and Italian governments and the Mafia to cover up illegal dumping of toxic waste. 

Then Foster's commanding officer/lover also turns up dead from an overdose. Was it suicide? Did she take her own life because she was despondent over Foster's death? Or was she killed to keep her quiet and her death made to look like suicide? Brunetti, of course, suspects the latter.

In order to get to the bottom of these events and resolve his investigation, Brunetti needs help. He calls upon his father-in-law, a wealthy and powerful man who has connections both in government and apparently in the Mafia. The father-in-law readily assists the husband of his only child. Once again the family connections in these books loom large in what seems like an accurate depiction of Italian society.

Donna Leon is especially skilled at describing the Venetian landscape - or should that be seascape? - and the Machiavellian nature of its society. She truly makes the reader see and understand how the culture has evolved and how it operates. It may not be transparent and straightforward, but it does seem to work and even though the end result may not be justice as we (or Guido Brunetti) would recognize it, a kind of equity is achieved.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars    


  1. I have a thing for books set in Venice. This series is quite popular at the bookstore where I used to work. Perhaps I will give it a try one day. I am looking forward to your reviews of the other mysteries you read.

  2. Welcome back, Dorothy! I hope you enjoyed your vacation immensely. This one sounds as entertaining as the first. You are right, Guido Brunetti is another kind of detective, but it should be expected: he is Italian. :-) I'm glad you liked this entry as well. Looking forward to the rest of your reviews.

    1. He is refreshingly different from so many hard-charging fictional detectives/policemen.


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