Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: Death in a Strange Country

Every once in a while I manage to pair a reading of a book with a vacation that manages to improve both. One of my favorite examples of this was reading Bill Bryson's In A Sunburned Country while in Australia. I managed to do it again, this time with my trip to Venice and Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon. The book was recommended to me before my trip, and it couldn't have been a better choice.

First off, the descriptions of Venice are wonderfully vivid. The food, the landscape, the people, Leon could have been describing the scenery of our trip. It definitely gave my visit there another dimension.

Next up, I very much liked the main character, Commissario Guido Brunetti. He's sort of an anti-Jack Reacher. Sure, he's a sharp detective, but definitely not a super hero. He's a likable guy, who's qualities include honesty, sincerity and perseverance, not the ability to beat up bad guys and deliver cold hard justice. Fitting with the anit-Reacher theme, he's a family man, with a truly loving marriage and real kids. I can't think of another detective who manages to be both good at his job, and come home to an understanding wife and kids. Seriously, who else gets to do this?

Finally, I loved the Italian and Venetian take on things. It's always tricky to generalize, but I think the author did a relatively good job of capturing America's smugness and how this must come across to the rest of the world. At the same time, the book made me appreciate the power of corruption and how thankful I am that I'm surrounded by a community where the rule of law is supreme.

Oh, I have to add, once again I was appalled at how much information the Amazon blurb gives away about the book. 3/4 of the plot is laid out for you to read in summary form. I'm just thankful I didn't read it ahead of time, and got to enjoy the pace set by Leon to share the story.

For a different type of detective book, I'd definitely recommend it. And if you're heading to Venice, it should be required reading.

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