Death in a Strange Country

In 1992, Donna Leon released her first novel featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice Police. That book was Death at la Fenice. Since then Leon has published one new addition every year; that’s 28 total, with her latest out this week. Leon, by the way, is an American living in Venice, the home of these stories.

There is a reason she continues to be a best seller. Death in a Strange Country is the only one I’ve read, but it is compelling. Her attention to character development is as good as it comes. We get to watch Brunetti interact with others, from the deceased to his family, and from that, we see a man whose compassion is at the forefront.

This story involves the US Army base at Vicenza, Longare Army Base, a couple of hours drive west of Venice. It was first established in the 1930s and re-established during the war as headquarters for the 22nd Quartermaster Truck Regiment. Its mission is still related to supply in that they support several combat units in the region as well as the other US units in Italy.

It is well to keep that in mind when reading this story because the root cause of the two murders involves disposal of toxic wastes from the base. It was a hot topic in the US in 1993, so it is good to be reminded in reading the older book. Keep in mind also that Italy has a long history of instability in most of its cultural institutions, especially the government. As of this writing, they are putting together their 65th government since the end of WWII. France is the only other European country to match them.

As you read, you will see two police agencies mentioned, the Polizia and the Carabinieri. The Carabinieri is military police which also has civilian duties. There are two other national police units and a number of local, limited power, units.

In this story, you will learn that all the police are forced to cede their powers in the face of powerful, well-connected political and business interests. Add in the Mafia, and you can see how difficult their job is. In spite of all that, Italy is as safe a country as any in Europe or North America. They have more corruption, but it rarely affects average people.

I give this book 4.6 stars and can’t wait for the next read.

Mike Lawrence

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