Red Room recently asked about our favorite literary detective. I've been reading mysteries for a long time. I have a number of favorites but I'm especially drawn to international mysteries and Italian mysteries in particular. I was inspired to read Cicero after I met Guido Brunetti, the Commisario in Donna Leon's mysteries set in and around Venice. I even went to Venice. I made a fool of myself over Guido Brunetti. Before long I introduced him to some of my friends and close relatives who also became attached to the man. He is not the typical hard shell detective or even the classic English (or Belgian) gentleman detective. First of all, he's a family man married to a literature professor with a "thing" for Henry James. He is a dad of two teenage kids...son and daughter...who are very much living in the present in spite of all the Venetian influences. His in-laws are a Count and Countess...or at least try to be in modern Italy and they get away with it.
His professional life is as a Commisario in the Venice police...the Questura (State police)...and his cases vary from plain murder, smuggling, his wife's vandalism, vengence killings, Gypsy stealing and government scandal. There is usually a body or two somewhere....maybe floating by in the canal or buried in a shallow grave or at the opera house. The stories fall into the familiar theme of an incompetant boss who engages in counter productive interference. This is Vice-Questore Patta: in Venice but not of Venice. Patta is more worried about what the higher ups and tourists think than solving crimes.
Guido (yes, we're on a first name basis) is a good man. He often goes home for lunch. He relaxes by reading Cicero. He takes vacations, or tries to. He and the family sit down together for meals out on the veranda. I'd like to be invited for dinner sometime because he eats pretty good.
Religion does not play a big part in his life but, because it plays a big part in other peoples' lives, he has to deal with it. His office looks out on a church that has been undergoing renovation for years....a metaphor, perhaps. Venice itself is one of the main characters. The acqua alta episodes of high water, canal or lagoon trips, casinos, glass factories, the cemetery island, piazzas and even the distinct Venetian dialect all have various roles to play.
Guido negotiates all of this and manages to reach an acceptable outcome.....not always a solved crime. He doesn't do it all by himself. He has helpers and assistants who have the ability to feed him clues and information. Some of the books end with an unsettled outcome. The bad guy doesn't always get punished, but this is Italy so what do you expect?
Causes Ken Hartke Supports
Save the Children, The Girl Effect, Banning and removal of Landmines, National Trust for Historic Preservation. public broadcasting