Aqua Alta (Commissario Brunetti #5) by Donna Leon

And after a long break, we’re back to Commissario Brunetti and Venice – for a city that’s supposedly so crime-free, I’m impressed at how many detective stories Donna Leon’s managed to write that take place there.

Before, in Death at La Fenice, the themes of the day were opera and poisoning; now it’s counterfeit antiques and the Mafia. (opera is still heavily featured in this book, but turning to the author bio I see that Donna Leon is an opera expert) Brett Lynch and Flavia Petrelli are back (so if you haven’t read Death at La Fenice, where the characters are introduced, I’d start with that one, since their involvement in this book means mild spoilers about the culprit of La Fenice), and Brunetti’s family continues their tradition of appearing in overly long scenes that have no bearing whatsoever on the actual plot. Also there’s a lot of hate directed at anyone who lives in Southern Italy, because apparently every single person in Sicily is a mob boss. That’s the impression I got reading this, anyway, and I’m sure Leon has gotten more than a few angry letters about how stereotypical all her Sicilian characters are. It got to the point where someone just needed to be informed “He’s from Palermo”, and that would be enough for everyone to understand that he was a Very Bad Guy.

Besides those two quibbles, this is a very enjoyable read. The setting, as always, is beautiful and atmospheric; and the story is full of action and drinking and sneering at tourists and good meals. Also lots of violence, and the most graphic is directed at women – this is the Mafia, after all. Fair warning.

Verdict: four out of five stars

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