Would you like to visit Venice?
Falling In Love is book number twenty-four in Donna Leon’s crime series set in Venice, Italy featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. It is about a mysterious stalker who threatens Flavia Petrelli, a fortyish opera singer performing the lead role in Tosca at Teatro La Fenice, and Brunetti’s attempts to catch the culprit before she is murdered. The author explores the love-hate relationship between a star and her admirers giving us an intriguing tale of obsessive fans, sibling rivalry, illicit affairs and lustrous jewels.
The novel unfolds in twenty-eight chapters and prior to the first, there is a black and white aerial map of Venice. Marked with clear text and directional arrows, it identifies the six sestieri, major canals, location vis-à-vis the mainland and some of the other islands in the Venetian Lagoon. Donna Leon, however, uses the map as more than a tool to define place. Sites where pivotal action occurs are also noted. By providing the opportunity to track developments, therefore, she draws readers into the story.
Opera is a complicated art form and Donna Leon fosters our understanding of it through many means. In Chapter 26, for example, Commissario Brunetti and Inspector Vianello observe
Flavia Petrelli perform so they might guard her. In this instance, she weaves technical and staging details necessary to mount the production without interrupting flow. As the following sentence evidences, she articulates the musical score beautifully. “Although there was only death to come, the scene opened with soft flutes and horns and church bells and the utter tranquility of night’s slow mellowing into day.”
Donna Leon excels at creating complex characters. Guido Brunetti is a methodical detective committed to his duties as a Venetian detective. This passage from Chapter 23, however, demonstrates he is also a man of passion with tenderness for his wife, Paola Falier. His definition of love is especially poignant.
“Perhaps life had been too generous to him, for the only woman he had ever desired to the point of pain at the thought of not having was Paola, the woman he had married and who was now part of himself. For her, and for his children with her, he willed the good: he couldn’t remember which philosopher had defined love this way, but he thought it was as perfect a definition he had ever heard.”
Related to this talent is her deftness at character description. I cite Flavia Petrelli’s comments in Chapter 3 with regards Guido Brunetti and Paola Falier to elucidate this point.
“She noticed, in the midst of the remaining people, a middle-aged man at the back of the group: brown-haired, head lowered to listen to something the woman next to him was saying. The woman was more interesting; natural blonde, powerful nose, light eyes, probably older than she looked.”
The author also captures the minutiae of everyday life with precision often referencing food and meal interactions to illustrate family dynamics. In a Chapter 12 lunch scene, Brunetti and Paola have a “frittata with zucchini and stuffed turkey breast” with their children, Raffi and Chiara. She writes, “The meal passed quietly, with the idle chat of people who were at ease with one another.” This parsing testifies to Donna Leon’s keen powers of observation as well as her skill as a wordsmith.
And a final thought. Venice, Italy is a popular tourist venue but Brunetti’s reflections challenge the reader to view it from a resident’s perspective. In Chapter 17, he ruminates, “Since the city illumination had been changed about a decade ago, Brunetti had grumbled about how bright the night had become: some of his friends complained that they could read in bed with the light that came in the windows.”
Whenever I yen to spend a few days in Venice to escape my current reality, I reach for a Donna Leon book. I have enjoyed the visit Falling In Love has afforded me and encourage you to travel with this author, too.