Acqua Alta by Donna Leon: A review

I needed a reading palate cleanser - a quick and easy read to bridge the gap between two more serious literary works. I decided to go with one of Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti mysteries, a series that I've discovered fairly recently. It has provided dependable reading pleasure.

Acqua Alta is the fifth book in the series. The title, meaning "high water," refers to a time during full moon in winter when tides bring the waters of the Adriatic into Venice, inundating the barriers meant to hold it back and sloshing into the ground floors of buildings. This phenomenon, aided and abetted by torrential winter rains, creates hazardous conditions in the city.

It is during one of these events that Brett Lynch, the American archaeologist that we met in the first Brunetti mystery, Death at La Fenice, is accosted in her own home and severely beaten by two "gentlemen from the South," a phrase used to denote that organization which must not be named by Venetians but which we would call the Mafia. During the beating, the men warned Brett not to keep her appointment for a meeting with the director of one of Venice's famous art museums. The men are driven off by Brett's lover, the acclaimed opera singer Flavia Petrelli who was in Brett's apartment with her at the time.

The crime is assigned to the regular uniformed branch of the police for investigation, but then Commissario Brunetti notices the name of the victim on a report that crosses his desk and remembers her from his earlier case. He goes to the hospital to visit her. Flavia contacts the high brass of the police and demands that Brunetti be assigned to the case, and since that is the way things work in Venice, he is.

He has hardly begun his investigation when another crime occurs; the art museum director whom Brett was to meet is found dead, beaten about the head, in his office at the museum. It seems clear that the two crimes are connected and Guido Brunetti must call on all the influence he has with various government agencies, as well as that of Signorina Elletra, the glamorous and talented secretary of his boss, Vice-Questore Patta, to find the information he needs to determine what is happening and why.

Guido Brunetti continues to be one of the most engaging characters that I've met in the world of detective fiction. With his wife, Paola, and their two teenage children, he shares a perfectly normal life, virtually unique among all the detectives with dysfunctional private lives that are the norm among the books of this genre.

Moreover, the city of Venice is one of the main characters, perhaps THE main character, in these books, and Donna Leon, who has lived in that city for many years, lovingly describes it with all its eccentricities and makes the reader feel as though she is sloshing along those celebrated streets or traversing the canals in one of the traditional gondolas. It's a city where the culture of ignoring and evading the laws is thoroughly ingrained, making the lot of an honest policeman like Guido, who is not willing to accept the corruption, not a happy one. But this week a visit with Guido was just what I needed.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars    


  1. Sounds like another good, solid entry in the Guido Brunetti saga. Glad you enjoyed it after the two heavy ones you took on before.

    1. It was undemanding and it kept my interest. What more can one ask of a palate cleanser?

  2. Last night I started #3 of the Inspector Felse mystery series by Ellis Peters for the same reason! Venice, Wales, whatever takes you away for a while, right?

    1. There's a lot to be said for escapist literature, I think.


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