If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

October Interviews
10/2 Debra H. Goldstein, Two Bites To Many
10/10 Connie Berry, A Legacy of Murder
10/17 Lida Sideris, Double Murder or Nothing
10/23 Toni L. P. Kelner writing as Leigh Perry, The Skeleton Stuffs A Stocking
10/30 Jennifer David Hesse, Autumn Alibi

Saturday Guest Bloggers:
10/5 Ang Pompano
10/12 Eyes of Texas Anthology Writers
10/19 Neil Plakcy

WWK Bloggers: 10/26 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Lyrical Press will publish Kaye George's Vintage Sweets mystery series. The first book, Revenge Is Sweet, will be released in March. Look for the interview here on 3/11.

Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!

Susan Van Kirk's A Death At Tippett Pond was released on June 15th. Read E. B. Davis's interview with Susan.

KM Rockwood's "Frozen Daiquiris" appears in The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk. The anthology was released on June 18th.

Fishy Business anthology authors include KM Rockwood, Debra Goldstein, and James M. Jackson. This volume was edited by Linda Rodriguez.

Please read Margaret S. Hamilton and Debra Goldstein's short stories (don't ask about their modus operandi) in a new anthology, Cooked To Death Vol. IV: Cold Cut Files.

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ydaklx8p

Grace Topping's mystery, Staging is Murder was released April 30.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Donna Leon’s portrayal of Venice

By Margaret S. Hamilton

Before I visit a new place, I read a work of crime fiction about it--P.D. James on London, Cara Black on Paris, and this fall, Donna Leon on Venice.

Leon is an American who has taught English abroad since the seventies. Over the past twenty-five years, she has published twenty-six Commissario Brunetti novels set in Venice.

Brunetti is an appealing and empathetic police detective, more interested in conducting interviews concerning a crime than climbing the bureaucratic ladder at the Questura. Passionate about uncovering the truth, his vision of justice is more pragmatic. Brunetti is a Venetian, born and bred, as are his university-professor wife and two teenage children. They have no wish to live elsewhere.

As in the works of James and Black, Venice assumes the role of a major character in Leon’s books. Venice is a maze of narrow streets, alleys, and canals, overrun most of the year with hordes of tourists. Street crime exists, particularly pickpockets, but, in general, Venice is a safe city. Except for the murders Brunetti investigates. Bodies are everywhere, the murder committed off-stage before he and Inspector Vianello are summoned. Crimes of passion, corruption, and greed affect every stratum of Venetian society.

Brunetti navigates the city on foot or takes the vaporetto water bus on the Grand Canal. Occasionally, he’ll use a police launch. He has a sidearm, but he rarely remembers to carry it. Brunetti has an instinctive knowledge of Venice, knowing with certainly which of ten streets intersecting a large square will lead him to his destination. Venice addresses aren’t sequentially numbered. Brunetti uses landmarks (the house with green shutters to the left of the church) instead.

Leon describes Brunetti’s daily life: his lunches and dinners at home with his wife and children, his meetings at a local coffee bar, when the garbage is collected at his front door (in the early morning, on a two-wheeled collection cart). Venice recycles. Parents escort their children to and from school. Dog-owners walk their dogs on the narrow streets. Muzzled dogs are allowed on the vaporetti. Food and rent are hideously expensive, the population in a steady decline.

In Earthly Remains, her latest book, Leon delves into eco-detective fiction. Venice is sinking—the acqua alta, high water, regularly floods the city in the fall and winter. The long-term MOSE tidal barrier project is a construction disaster rife with corruption. And in her book, something is killing the bees in hives on the islands in the lagoon:

He’d stopped rowing then, and Brunetti’d pulled up his own oar and turned to look at the older man. “Look at that,” Casati had said, pointing his chin to the left, and when that failed to encompass his meaning, he’d waved his left hand in a wide arc towards the mainland. “Everywhere, we’ve built and dug and torn up and done what we wanted with nature. And look at this,” he’d said, turning to his right and waving out over the laguna, “we’ve poisoned this, too…They’ve done what they wanted with nature, and our children will pay the price.” Immediately, Brunetti had thought of the MOSE, the tidal barrier that many people believed could not work, and realized that Casati’s prophecy included Brunetti’s own children. “We’ve poisoned it all, killed it all,” Casati had said, turning back to Brunetti. (Earthly Remains, p.157)

When my husband and I were in Venice, we found it a challenge navigating the narrow streets in the pouring-down rain. Donna Leon describes how the Venetians handle it:

There were few people on the streets, so he was spared the usual jostle and umbrella-sparring as people tried to pass in the narrow calli. Venetians had had ages to develop the technique of tilting the top to the side of the calle and slipping along the walls past the oncoming walker. Tourists had two techniques: either they forged ahead in the face of all human obstacles or they stopped and cowered with their backs against the nearest building, the umbrella extended fully open above them, effectively forcing all traffic into the centre of the street. (The Waters of Eternal Youth, p.247-8)

During our visit, we had seen posters advertising a Vivaldi concert in a church. One day, when we were lost looking for the Accademia Gallery, we passed the church where the concert would be performed. We purchased tickets, asked about a nearby restaurant for dinner, and were given a large- scale paper map showing the route to the church from San Marco.

After the concert, we stood on the Accademia Bridge watching the vaporetti and water taxis rumble up and down the Grand Canal, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” reverberating in our heads. Venice, La Serenissima, is a magical place that must be protected and preserved.

Readers and writers, do you enjoy learning about a new place by reading a novel (in particular, work of crime fiction), before your visit?


Jim Jackson said...

I’ve only heard good things about Venice from those who toured and read bad things about tourists written by those who live there!

~ Jim

Julie Tollefson said...

I do the same, Margaret! When we went to Australia a couple years ago, I found several new-to-me Australian authors to read before we got there. It adds another layer to the experience.

Kait said...

Absolutely--I read locally set books for a flavor of the town/country/city, but in addition to reading crime fiction, I read romances for a different kind of city view. I had forgotten how narrow Venetian streets are, but what a beautiful place.

Grace Topping said...

When we traveled by sea to Australia, I took Bill Bryson's book "In A Sunburned Country" about Australia. Imagine my surprise to discover that Bill Bryson was going to be a guest speaker on the ship. He was immensely entertaining. Afterwards I stood in line to get his autograph, and he was touched that I had brought his book not knowing that he was going to be on the ship. He was so gracious. An American, he now lives in England with his British-born wife. He said that he was disappointed that there weren't more Americans on the ship.

In his presentation, which was soon after the movie version of his book "A Walk In the Woods" was released, he answered the question of what had become of his hiking partner, Steven Katz, an old friend who had a problem with drink and drugs. He said he was pleased to announce that Steve had gotten his act together and that he took great delight in people asking about him.

Kaye George said...

Why have I never thought of reading a mystery set in a location I'm about to visit? What a great idea! Your pictures are lovely and evocative. I've been to Venice twice, once with a local Italian family, and except for the occasional bad smell, love the place. I'll have to make a reading list next time I make a major trip!

Warren Bull said...

An excellent idea and an excellent novelist too. Thanks.

Shari Randall said...

Margaret thank you for this beautiful blog - it took me right back to Venice. What a place. I've heard it described as Disneyland for Adults. Not sure if that is apt. I was enchanted by the beauty and fairy tale quality of the city, but being swept along by crowds of fellow tourists soon returned me to the reality that locals face. I had thought the seawall was supposed to save Venice - so saddened that it's just another boondoggle.
I usually binge on guidebooks before traveling, but your idea is much better for capturing the flavor of a place.
Your pictures look like paintings!

KM Rockwood said...

My daughter and I schedule an "exotic" trip every few years, and read quite a bit of fiction prior to leaving. Sometimes it's difficult to find suitable fiction--notably, our trip to Tanzania, which was almost exclusively far off the beaten path (Except for the guide, we didn't encounter anyone who spoke English after we left Dar es Salaam. Fortunately we had people who were fluent in Swahili and German--most of the camps we stayed in were operated by Germans)

We are beginning to plan a trip to Italy, and I'm sure these books will make the list.

E. B. Davis said...

Great idea, Margaret. Reading books set in the place you are traveling to makes a lot of sense. But you're the one who thought of it!

Margaret Turkevich said...

Jim, I'm anxious to hear about the tourists you encounter in Antarctica.

Julie, I agree. Australia is so unique that reading its fiction and non-fiction is essential before a trip. My kids grew up with Australian children's books a relative sent (Paul Jennings, Wombat Stew).

Kait, Venice was bustling with tourists the second week of November, but manageable. Lots of Italian school groups.

Grace, you heard Bill Bryson speak? How exciting! I dipped into his books after my older daughter returned from her college semester in Sydney.

Kaye, I love thinking about Commissario Brunetti as we wandered around Venice. His Questura was in the same area as our hotel, and we routinely saw police launches on the small canal.

Warren, it's worked for London, Paris, and Venice. I regret not having read a book about Copenhagen before we visited.

Shari, I get overwhelmed by the quantities of information in a guidebook. I'm fascinated by the day-to-day details of life in a new place: grocery shopping, schools, and what kind of dogs people walk. I would call it less Disney and more layers of history, except there are no new buildings in Venice, other than the train station.

Elaine, I think lots of people do the same. I remember Helene Hanff, the author of 84, Charing Cross Road, said she wanted to explore the London she knew from literature. And she found it.

Kathleen, Donna Leon's books are a great introduction to the life and times of Venice.

Gloria Alden said...

Margaret, I'm late getting here because I was visiting a sister who fell and broke her hip and just went through surgery for it. Anyway, I went to Venice in 2007. After I retired my daughter Mary paid for the airplane trip there and we shared the expense of the Bed and Breakfast and meals while we were there. It's a fascinating city. We found that some of the people were rather rude. I was almost pushed down some steps by a business man carrying a brief case. I felt his hand on my back. Later I was told by someone who arranges trips overseas that the men in Venice tend to look down on women traveling alone. While we were there we took a train to Florence and found the people there much friendlier. We spent one night there and then went back to Venice. My daughter was hungry for some bananas so bought some from a street vendor. He put some in a bag, and when Mary opened it up as we walked away all the bananas were black and rotten. She took them back and he gave her her money back but he swore at her in Italian. We didn't know the words, but could tell he was swearing. Other than that everyone was nice to us and we enjoyed the visit and took lots of pictures. I really enjoyed seeing yours, and I wrote down the title and author of the book you recommended.

Barbara Monajem said...

I was actually visiting Venice when I first read a book by Donna Leon! It really enhanced my enjoyment and appreciation of that lovely city.

Margaret Turkevich said...

Gloria, your trip to Venice sounds lovely! Enjoy Donna Leon's books.

Barbara, did you buy the book in Venice? I know that Donna Leon doesn't permit her books to be translated into Italian. I assumed they weren't marketed in Italy.

Barbara Monajem said...

No, Margaret, we were visiting relatives in Germany at the time who took us on a trip to Venice. They loaned me the book (it was in English).

Margaret Turkevich said...

Barbara, Donna Leon is very popular in Germany and Austria. Her books were made into television movies by a German company.