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Beautiful and serene Venice is a city almost divoid of crime. But that is little comfort to Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor who is poisoned one night during intermission. As Guido Brunetti, vice-commissario of police and a genius of detection, pieces together the clues, a shocking picture of depravity and revenge emerges.
The third gong, announcing that the opera was about to continue, sounded discreetly through the lobbies and bars of Teatro La Fenice. In response, the audience stabbed, out cigarettes, finished drinks and conversations, and started to filter back into the theater. The hall, brightly lit between acts, hummed with the talk of those returning to their seats. Here a jewel flashed, there a mink cape was adjusted over a naked shoulder or an infinitesimal speck of dust was flicked from a satin lapel. The upper galleries filled up first, followed by the orchestra seats and then the three rows of boxes.
The lights dimmed, the hall grew dark, and the tension created by an ongoing performance mounted as the audience waited for the conductor to reappear on the podium. Slowly the hum of voices faded, the members of the orchestra stopped fidgeting in their seats, and the universal silence announced everyone's readiness for the third and final act.
The silence lengthened, grew heavy. From the first gallery, there came a burst of coughing; someone dropped a book, perhaps a purse; but the door to the corridor behind the orchestra pit remained dosed.
The first to talk were the players in the orchestra. A second violinist leaned over to the woman next to him and asked if she had made her vacation plans. In the second row, a bassoonist told an oboist that the Benetton sales were starting next day. The people in the first tiers of boxes, who could best see the musicians, soon imitated their soft chatter. The galleries joined in, and then those in orchestra seats, as though the wealthy would be the last to give in to this sort of behavior.
The humgrew to a murmur. Minutes passed. Suddenly the folds of the dense green velvet curtain were pulled back and Amadeo Fasini, the theater's artistic director, stepped awkwardly through the narrow opening. The technician the light box above the second gallery, with on, decided to center a hot on the man at center stage
Blinded, Fasini shot up his a arm to shield his eyes. Still holding his arm raised in front of him, as if to protect himself from a blow, he began to speak: "Ladies and gentlemen,"and then he stopped, gesturing wildly with his left hand to the technician, who, realizing his error, switched off the light. Released from his temporary blindness, the man onthe stage started again. "Ladies and gentlemen, I regret toinform you that Maestro Wellauer is unable to performance." Whispers, questions, rose from the audience, silk rustled as heads turned, but he continued to speak above the noise. "His place will be taken by Maestro Longhi." Before the hum could rise to drown him out, he asked, voice insistently calm,"Is there a doctor in the audience?"
His question met a long pause, then people began to look around them: who would be the one to present himself? Almost a full minute passed. Finally, a hand rose slowly in one of the first rows of the orchestra, and a woman got out of her seat. Fasini waved a hand to one of the uniformed ushers at the back of the house, and the young man hurried to the end, of the row where the woman now stood. "If you would, Dottoressa," Fasini said, sounding as if he were in pain and needed the doctor for himself, "Please go backstage with the usher."
He glanced up into the horseshoe of the still darkened hall, tried to smile, failed, and abandoned the attempt. "Excuse, ladies and, gentlemen, the difficulty. The opera will now continue."
Turning, the artistic director fumbled at the curtain, unable for a moment to find the opening through which he had come. Disembodied hands parted the curtain from behind, and he slipped through, finding himself in the bare garret where Violetta was soon to die. From out in front, he heard the tentative. applause that greeted the substitute conductor as he took his place on the podium.
Singers, chorus members, stagehands appeared from all around him, as curious as the audience had been but far more vocal. Though the power of his position usually protected him from contact with members of the company as low in standing as these, the director could not now avoid them, their questions, their whispers. "It's nothing, nothing," he said to no one in particular, then he waved at them all, trying to clear them, with that gesture, from the stage upon which they flocked. The music of the prelude was drawing to a close; soon the curtain would open on the evening's Violetta, who now sat nervously on the edge of the cot at the center of the stage. Fasini redoubled the intensity of his gestures, and singers and stagehands began to move off to the wings, where they continued to whisper among themselves. He snarled a furious "Silenzio" and waited for it to take effect. When he saw the curtains inching apart to reveal the stage, he hurried to join the stage manager, who stood off to stage right, beside the doctor. A short, dark woman, she stood directly under a No Smoking sign, with an unlighted cigarette in, her hand.
"Good evening, Doctor," Fasini said, forcing himself to smile. She dropped the cigarette into the pocket of herjacket and shook his hand. "What is it?" she finally asked as, from behind them, Violetta began to read the letter from Germont pére.
Fasini rubbed his hands together briskly, as if the gesture would help him decide what to say. "Maestro Wellauer has been . . . " he began, but he found no satisfactory way to finish the sentence.
"Is he sick?" asked the doctor impatiently.
"No, no, he's not sick," Fasini said, and then words left him. He returned to rubbing his hands together.
"Perhaps I had better see him," she said, making it a question. "Is he here in the theater?"Death At La Fenice. Copyright © by Donna Leon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted June 13, 2009
I was unfamiliar with Donna Leon and the Guido Brunetti series until I read a recent review of the 18th novel in the series, About Face. The description of the main characters, Brunetti and Venice, were both very interesting to me. So, I decided to start with the first novel, Death at La Fenice. The plot was intriguing, Venice was described in astonishing detail and Brunetti was an interesting and enjoyable character. The feel for Venice and the details of Brunetti's personal life were very well done. I highly recommend this series and this novel in particular.
29 out of 30 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 22, 2008
A friend recommended this author to me and to humor her, since I thought I had already discovered all the good, contemporary mystery authors', I picked it up. I had been to Venice the year before and thought it an interesting setting for a mystery -- certainly spooky after dark. It took about a chapter to get into this story, becasue the writing style is a shade more formal than I am used to with American authors, but after that, I had a hard time putting it down. I really was hooked and wanted to know what happened next. Based on my good experience with with Leon's 'Death at La Fenice,' I now plan to order the rest of the Guido Brunetti series. Leon's turn of phrase is descriptive, delicious and a delight. She makes you see and hear everything and everyone as if you were watching a movie. I KNEW the characters, SAW the settings, FELT the tension. It was all amazingly detailed while also highly entertaining -- and the plot moved along, was not bogged down in unnecessary yakking, musings, side trips, and editorials. It was a page-turner for me. Having been to Venice helped make this story's setting even more real to me, but reading without that experience just means you have to use your imagination a little more strenuously -- no great feat for any avid fiction reader. This is a police procedural, for sure, but not in the American sense. It is 'mostly' gracious, NOT gritty and bloody, full of guns and knives and thugs beating each other up. But it is not a tea cozy either. I am personally thrilled to find a 'new' author and look forward to tagging along with Brunetti while he takes on more cases. Leon is not in the category of Great Literature, but this is great contemporary story telling in an excellent writing style.
27 out of 30 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 1, 2009
I like police detective novels written by women. Donna Leon paints beautiful pictures of a Venice not generally seen by tourists. Her characters are rich and complex. Thoroughly enjoyable.
14 out of 16 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 31, 2009
This is a well-written mystery with believable characters, enjoyable plot and an interesting setting. While making Venice a part of the story, Donna Leon manages not to turn this into a travelogue. Guido Brunetti is presented as a well-rounded character - detective, husband, father and citizen of Venice. The story line is engaging. This is a series I think I will continue to read.
12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 31, 2009
I liked Detective Brunetti & intend to read other books in which he is a character. Well written, the type of story you cannot put down until you get to know who the muder is.
10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 9, 2004
I enjoyed this well-written, elegant, international mystery. Guido is a likeable 'everyman' with a heart to whom I can relate. I love Agatha Christie mysteries, and as I've read almost every one, I was wondering what to read next until I stumbled on to this series. These appeal to me in a way that the crime thriller novels from James Patterson do not; they seem to be a little more focused on human nature and characters in the way that Agatha Christie was.
9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Internationally renowned German conductor Helmut Wellauer was performing La Traviata at Teatro La Fenice when he failed to come out for the second act. A few minutes past the warning gong, someone ask if there is a doctor in the house? Dr. Rizzardi enters the maestro¿s dressing room to find Helmut dead.---- Being Venice, the police arrive by boat rather quickly. Police Commissario Guido Brunetti leads the investigation into who would use cyanide poisoning, a painful way to die, on the conductor. Suspects abound from the victim¿s seemingly aloof spouse to musical peers and rivals. Soon Brunetti learns that Helmut was a Nazi sympathizer and once destroyed the careers of a singing trio. With no help from his martinet boss or from the two idiots assigned to assist him, Brunetti turns to his family especially his wife Paula for assistance on solving a homicide which has several viable suspects.---- DEATH AT LA FENICE is an engaging Italian police procedural that showcases the city of canals as much as it does the investigation. Brunetti is a terrific protagonist struggling to solve a difficult case because several viable individuals with different but powerful motives wanted Helmut dead and seemingly would perform the act if the opportunity allowed so. Sub-genre fans will appreciate the investigation as Brunetti deals with the brass and his incompetent help, but as with many of these tales (see the recently released DOCTORED EVIDENCE, it is Donna Leon¿s aria to the city that she loves that ahs the audience riding the canals on the police boats guided by the author.---- Harriet Klausner
9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 26, 2012
Very excellent character development makes me think I might read the rest of the series. The droll humor that sometimes popped out at me from the pages of this police procedural was unexpected and welcome. The Commissario Brunetti himself is a winner - just the sort of detective I enjoy reading, and the literate writing and references to cultural icons and authors is welcome in these days of so much drek being foisted off on us as good writing. Venice is also a star of the novel, and not less because of the seediness of historical decay that infects its buildings and and the same time highlights its beauty.
7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 7, 2011
I happened to randomingly select this book from the bargain table. Italy is my favorite country and Venice is beautiful. As soon as I began reading the book, I fell in love with the main character of Detective Brunetti. If you like mystery series, then start with the first book and work you way through to the next one. I purchased the next three books in the series and have enjoyed them.I plan on making this series part of my permanent library. The author has written a good story line. As I read the book, I had a clear picture in my head of what Detective Brunetti looks like, gray wavy hair, blue eyes, full mouth and a very Italian male. He loves his wife, family and enjoys his job. He will look at a beautiful woman but he loves his wife. Detective Brunetti is a good detective but a compassionate man.
6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Fun book, with a somewhat enjoyable mystery. The real charm of the book is Venice. Through her main character, Commissario Brunetti, Leon takes you on a trip to Venice, its streets, meals and the daily life of its residents. This is the only reason I picked up the second book in the series and the third. Venice is the main character and, as the plot is ok, it's good, fun, somewhat educational reading.
4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 26, 2012
I was trying to find something for my Nook card and I decided to read this nook book. When I was a kid I read all Agatha Christie's novels, and I thought I was no longer interested in written mistery but in historic novel until I found Death at La Fenice. Being an opera lover myself and a Traviata fan, the book sounded engaging, and now I will follow Donna Leon and she will remain one of my favorite authors.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 12, 2001
It is no secret that American expatriate Donna Leon loves Venice. And in ¿Death at La Fenice¿ this author (and English teacher) begins one of the most exciting police procedural series around. Leon not only writes about Venice but actually lives there. Her love for the city shows--and she pulls no punches as she gives us this ages-old city, warts and all, a sure sign of true love. She also introduces us to one of the most exciting--and competent--police detectives in modern fiction. In Vice-Commassario Guido Brunetti we find a brilliant mind, a sensitive soul, a man determined to follow a moral, just, and honest road (in Venice yet!). Leon¿s power of description and episode has propelled this man--and this series--to exciting heights. La Fenice is the name of Venice¿s renowned opera house, an excellent setting for this introductory novel. Helmut Wellauer, an internationally recognized German conductor, is found dead in his dressing room, shortly before the performance ¿La Traviata,¿ which he is to conduct. With deliberate pacing, Leon sets us up for the story to follow. Enter Brunetti. Leon describes him thus: ¿He was a surprisingly neat man: tie carefully knotted, hair shorter than was the fashion; even his ears lay close to his head, as if reluctant to call attention to themselves. His clothing marked him as Italian. The cadence of his speech announced that he was Venetian. His eyes were all policeman.¿ A chief suspects is operatic diva soprano Flavia Petrelli. Because of their differences of artistic opinion (as well as another!), she has the motive. Flavia and her American archeologist and companion Brett Lynch pose as a puzzle to Brunetti. With her command of the story, Leon leads us to an exciting conclusion--but perhaps this conclusion is not so important as the fact that she has introduced us to Brunetti, his wife Paula, and his children. Brunetti¿s relationship to and with the city of Venice is energizing and readers who care to follow this book will find Leon¿s objectives convincing. Plus, she writes an exceptional story! The remainder of her books are most exciting, too. ¿Death at La Venice¿ merely serves as an arousing overture of the rest of her literary symphony.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 18, 2012
Posted February 20, 2010
Donna Lyon writes about Venice and Inspector Brunetti with flair. The story is interesting and original. The characters are captivating. And both the city and the inspector are the heroes of this story. Read It! And all the others she has written! She is a writer who desrves your attention.
1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 13, 2006
Author Donna Leon captures the mysterious side of Venice nicely. There are occasionally too many 'knowing' references to Venice that try to hard at erudition, but other than that it is a pleasant read.
1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 24, 2013
Posted September 21, 2013
Posted June 7, 2013
Posted June 2, 2013
Leon tells a great story with plenty of plot twists to keep you intrigued, but more importantly she creates a delightful cast of characters that leave you craving another dinnertime discussion.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 20, 2013