Death in a Strange Country (Guido Brunetti Series #2)

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Overview

Early one morning, a sleepy Brunetti confronts a grisly sight, the bloated body of a young man fished out of a fetid Venetian canal. The corpse turns out to be that of an American soldier who was stationed at the U.S. Army post in Vicenza, near Venice. Brunetti's foppish, media-conscious boss likes his cases tied up quickly in the neatest packages possible, and he pressures Brunetti to declare the death drug-related and leave it at that. But the thoroughly spotless life of the deceased and the rarity of ...
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Death in a Strange Country (Guido Brunetti Series #2)

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Overview

Early one morning, a sleepy Brunetti confronts a grisly sight, the bloated body of a young man fished out of a fetid Venetian canal. The corpse turns out to be that of an American soldier who was stationed at the U.S. Army post in Vicenza, near Venice. Brunetti's foppish, media-conscious boss likes his cases tied up quickly in the neatest packages possible, and he pressures Brunetti to declare the death drug-related and leave it at that. But the thoroughly spotless life of the deceased and the rarity of drug-related crime in Venice make Brunetti doubt his superior's advice even more than usual. Throwing protocol to the winds, Brunetti scours the base at Vicenza for clues. The suspicious "suicide" of a colleague of the dead soldier and a little boy's rash point Brunetti toward toxic waste dumping and an insidious cover-up that extends from the Mafia to the U.S. Army to the police and perhaps even to Brunetti's own family. Two people have already been killed for trying to expose this cabal. Will Brunetti be the third? Leon's portrayals of Venice and the Army base - an improbable island of Bermuda shorts and Baskin-Robbins in the Italian countryside - are consistently fascinating. Most memorable, though, is her depiction of Brunetti. As a devoted family man and pillar of the community who quietly abhors the powers that be, he is original, subtly drawn, and completely irresistible.

Guido Brunetti, commissario of the Venice police who was first introduced in the mystery Death At La Fenice, returns in a case involving the Mafia, the Italian government, and the U.S. military. When an American body is found floating in one of the city's picturesque canals, Brunetti probes into a case that lands him knee-deep in a toxic waste cover-up.

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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
The ancient elegance of Venice makes for a striking contrast to contemporary murder in bestselling author Donna Leon's Death in a Strange Country. Comissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice police force faces a potential jurisdictional nightmare when the body of a young American soldier is pulled out of a nearby canal. As the case unfolds, it soon becomes clear that this was no accidental drowning or mugging gone awry, but cold-blooded murder…and the questions Brunetti must answer are many. Who wanted this apparently well liked young man dead? What was the foreigner doing in Venice the night he died? And why was a fortune in drugs hidden in the dead soldier's apartment for Brunetti to find? It's up to Brunetti to find the truth amid tangled chains of evidence, true and false, working under the added burdens of political pressure and family troubles as he explores the complex crime's possible ties to terrorism, organized crime, or something worse. Sue Stone
From the Publisher

“A measured, thoughtful conspiracy investigation that goes a long way toward extending Leon's range. This is definitely an author to watch.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Intriguing plot… Venice looms large as a well-painted backdrop. Its damp, crumbling beauty and tourist-mobbed sites are as vivid in Leon’s depiction as the rich tang of espresso boiling over.” —Publishers Weekly

“What makes Leon’s work especially unnerving is the sense that corruption is a continuing process. . . . The characters of Brunetti and his family continue to deepen throughout this series.” —The Times (UK)

“This series has become one of the adornments of current crime fiction. A gem.”
The Scotsman (UK)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061094064
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/28/1995
  • Series: Guido Brunetti Series , #2
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 4.21 (w) x 6.78 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Donna Leon

Donna Leon is the author of the international best-selling Commissario Guido Brunetti series. The winner of the CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction, among other awards, Leon was born in New Jersey and has lived in Venice for thirty years.

Biography

Donna Leon's love affair with Italy began in the mid-1960s when she visited for the first time. She returned frequently over the course of the next decade, while working as a teacher in such far-flung paces as Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, England, Iran, and China. In the 1980s, the New Jersey native made the decision to move to Venice, where she still lives.

Leon's writing career began accidentally. One evening, following a performance at Venice's famous opera house, Teatro La Fenice, Leon and some friends were discussing a certain conductor they all heartily disliked. Someone jokingly suggested killing him off; and when the conversation turned to how, where, and why, suddenly the idea for a dandy murder mystery took shape in Leon's mind. Published in 1992, Death at La Fenice introduced Commissario Guido Brunetti, the melancholy Venetian policeman who would go on to star in a series of witty, intelligently plotted, and critically acclaimed detective novels.

Brunetti is, indeed, one of the most appealing characters in crime fiction, and one of the pleasures of the series is the revelation of new and surprising facets to his personality. Intellectual, introspective, and world weary, he is also happily married, totally committed to his job, and a lover of classical music, good food, and jokes. But, above all, Guido Brunetti is "Venetian to the bone" -- born into and shaped by a society filled with cultural contradictions. Through her detective's eyes, Leon illuminates the central paradox of Venice: Beneath the ravishing beauty and civilized veneer lurks a core of insidious and utterly pervasive corruption. Brunetti's cynicism stems from his inability to stem the tide -- although, bless his heart, he never stops trying.

Elegant writing, deft characterization, and lots of local color elevate the Brunetti novels above run-of-the-mill series, and Leon's reputation has grown with each installment. But although her books are international bestsellers, they have never been translated into Italian. The author explained why in an interview with National Public Radio: " I do not take any pleasure whatsoever in being a famous person. The tenor of my life would change if these books were translated into Italian, because I'm completely anonymous here." Anonymous in Venice, perhaps. Elsewhere, Donna Leon is a rock star!

Good To Know

An opera buff with a passion for baroque music, Leon has written the libretto for a comic opera entitled Dona Gallina.

For a few years, Leon reviewed crime fiction for the Sunday Times.

In Germany, several of the Commissario Brunetti novels have been adapted into television mini-series.

A woman of strong opinions, Leon reads voraciously for topical issues to use in her novels. Among the serious matters she has written about are industrial pollution, human trafficking, illegal adoption, and corruption in the Catholic Church.

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    1. Hometown:
      Venice, Italy
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 28, 1942
    2. Place of Birth:
      Montclair, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., 1964; M.A. 1969; postgraduate work in English literature

Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Death in a Strange Country


By Donna Leon

PENGUIN BOOKS

Copyright © 1993 Donna Leon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-14-303482-0


Chapter One

The body floated face down in the murky water of the canal. Gently, the ebbing tide tugged it along towards the open waters of the laguna that spread out beyond the end of the canal. The head bumped a few times against the moss-covered steps of the embankment in front of the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, lodged there for a moment, then shifted free as the feet swung out in a delicate balletic arc that pulled it loose and set it again drifting towards the open waters and freedom.

Close by, the bells of the church chimed four in the morning, and the waters slowed, as if ordered to do so by the bell.

Gradually, they slowed even more, until they reached that moment of utter stillness that separates the tides, when the waters wait for the new tide to take over the day's work. Caught in the calm, the limp thing bobbed on the surface of the water, dark-clad and invisible. Time passed in silence and then was broken by two men who walked by, chatting in soft voices filled with the easy sibilance of the Venetian dialect. One of them pushed a low cart loaded with newspapers which he was taking back to his newsstand to begin the day; the other was on his way to work in the hospital that took up one entire side of the vast open campo.

Out in the laguna, a small boat puttered past, and the tiny waves it raised rippled up the canal and toyed with the body, shifting it back up against the embankment wall.

As the bells chimed five, a woman in one of the houses that overlooked the canal and faced onto the campo flung open the dark-green shutters of her kitchen and turned back to lower the flaming gas under her coffee pot. Still not fully awake, she spooned sugar into a small cup, flipped off the gas with a practised motion of her wrist, and poured a thick stream of coffee into her cup. Cradling it in her hands, she walked back to the open window and, as she had every morning for decades, looked across at the giant equestrian statue of Colleoni, once the most fearsome of all Venetian military leaders, now her nearest neighbour. For Bianca Pianaro, this was the most peaceful moment of the day, and Colleoni, cast into eternal bronze silence centuries ago, the perfect companion for this precious, secret quarter-hour of silence.

Glad of its sharp warmth, she sipped at her coffee, watching the pigeons that had already begun to peck their way towards the base of the statue. Idly, she glanced directly below her, to where her husband's small boat bobbed in the dark-green water. It had rained in the night, and she looked to see if the canvas tarpaulin that covered the boat was still in place. If the tarpaulin had been pulled free by the wind, Nino would have to go down and bail the boat out before he went to work. She leaned out, providing herself a clear view of the bow. At first, she thought it was a bag of rubbish, swept from the embankment by the night's tide. But it was strangely symmetrical, elongated, with two branches sweeping out on either side of the central trunk, almost as if it were ...

'Oh, Dio,' she gasped and let her coffee cup fall into the waters below, not far from the strange shape floating face down in the canal. 'Nino, Nino,' she screamed, turning back towards their bedroom. 'There's a body in the canal.' It was this same message, 'There's a body in the canal', that woke Guido Brunetti twenty minutes later. He shifted up onto his left shoulder and pulled the phone onto the bed with him. 'Where?'

'Santi Giovanni e Paolo. In front of the hospital, sir,' answered the policeman who had called him as soon as the call came into the Questura.

'What happened? Who found him?' Brunetti asked, swinging his feet out from beneath the covers and sitting up on the edge of the bed.

'I don't know, sir. A man named Pianaro called to report it.'

'So why did you call me?' Brunetti asked, making no attempt to hide the irritation in his voice, the clear result of the time indicated on the glowing face of the clock beside the bed: five-thirty-one. 'What about the night shift? Isn't anyone there?'

'They've all gone home, sir. I called Bozzetti, but his wife said he wasn't home yet.' As he spoke, the young man's voice grew more and more uncertain. 'So I called you, sir, because I know you're working day shift.' Which, Brunetti reminded himself, began in two and a half hours. He said nothing.

'Are you there, sir?'

'Yes, I'm here. And it's five-thirty.'

'I know, sir,' the young man bleated. 'But I couldn't find anyone else.'

'All right. All right. I'll go down there and have a look. Send me a launch. Now.' Remembering the hour and the fact that the night shift had already gone off duty, he asked, 'Is there anyone who can bring it?'

'Yes, sir. Bonsuan just came in. Shall I send him?'

'Yes, right now. And call the rest of the day shift. Tell them to meet me there.'

'Yes, sir,' the young man responded, his relief audible at having someone take charge.

'And call Doctor Rizzardi. Ask him to meet me there as quickly as he can.'

'Yes, sir. Anything else, sir?'

'No, nothing. But send the launch. Right now. And tell the others, if they get there before I do, to close things off. Don't let anyone get near the body.' Even as they spoke, how much evidence was being destroyed, cigarettes dropped on the ground, shoes scuffed across the pavement? Without saying anything further, he hung up.

Beside him in the bed, Paola moved and looked up at him with one eye, the other covered by a naked arm against the invasion of light. She made a noise that long experience told him was an inquisitive one.

'A body. In a canal. They're coming to get me. I'll call.' The noise with which she acknowledged this was an affirmative one. She rolled onto her stomach and was asleep immediately, certainly the only person in the entire city uninterested in the fact that a body had been found floating in one of the canals.

He dressed quickly, decided not to spend the time shaving, and went into the kitchen to see if there was time for coffee. He opened the lid of the Moka Express and saw about an inch of coffee left over from the night before. Though he hated reheated coffee, he poured it into a saucepan and put it on a high flame, standing over it and waiting for it to boil. When it did, he poured the almost-viscous liquid into a cup, spooned in three sugars, and downed it quickly.

The bell to the apartment sounded, announcing the arrival of the police launch. He glanced at his watch. Eight minutes before six. It must be Bonsuan; no one else was capable of getting a boat here that quickly. He grabbed a wool jacket from the cupboard by the front door. September mornings could be cold, and there was always the chance of wind at Santi Giovanni e Paolo, so near to the open waters of the laguna.

At the bottom of the five flights of stairs, he pulled open the door to the building and found Puccetti, a recruit who had been with the police for fewer than five months.

'Buon giorno, Signor Commissario,' Puccetti said brightly and saluted, making far more noise and motion than Brunetti thought seemly at that hour.

Brunetti answered with a wave and headed down the narrow calle on which he lived. At the edge of the water, he saw the police launch moored to the landing, blue light flashing rhythmically. At the wheel, he recognized Bonsuan, a police pilot who had the blood of countless generations of Burano fishermen in his veins, blood that must certainly have been mixed with the waters of the laguna, carrying an instinctive knowledge of the tides and currents that would have allowed him to navigate the canals of the city with his eyes closed.

Bonsuan, stocky and heavy-bearded, acknowledged Brunetti's arrival with a nod, as much an acknowledgement of the hour as of his superior. Puccetti scrambled onto deck, joining a pair of uniformed policemen already there. One of them flicked the mooring cable free of the piling, and Bonsuan backed the boat quickly out into the Grand Canal, then swung it sharply around and back up towards the Rialto Bridge. They swept under the bridge and swung into a one-way canal on the right. Soon after that, they cut to the left, then again to the right. Brunetti stood on the deck, collar raised against the wind and the early-morning chill. Boats moored on either side of the canals bobbed in their wake, and others, coming in from San Erasmo with fresh fruit and vegetables, pulled to the side and hugged the buildings at the sight of their flashing blue light.

Finally, they turned into the Rio dei Mendicanti, the canal that flowed beside the hospital and out into the laguna, just opposite the cemetery. The proximity of the cemetery to the hospital was probably accidental; to most Venetians, however, particularly those who had survived treatment at the hospital, the location of the cemetery was a silent comment upon the proficiency of the hospital staff.

Halfway down the canal, clustered on the right, Brunetti saw a small group of people drawn up close to the edge of the embankment. Bonsuan stopped the boat fifty metres from the crowd in what Brunetti knew would be, by now, an entirely vain attempt to keep any evidence at the site free from the effects of their arrival.

One of the officers approached the boat and held out a hand to Brunetti to help him climb ashore. 'Buon giorno, Signor Commissario. We got him out, but, as you can see, we've already got company.' He gestured to nine or ten people crowding around something on the pavement, their bodies obscuring it from Brunetti's sight.

The officer turned back towards the crowd, saying as he walked, 'All right. Move back. Police.' At the approach of the two men, not at the command, the crowd pulled back.

On the pavement, Brunetti saw the body of a young man lying on his back, eyes open to the morning light. Beside him stood two policemen, uniforms soaked to their shoulders. Both of them saluted when they saw Brunetti. When their hands returned to their sides, water trickled to the ground beneath them. He recognized them, Luciani and Rossi, both good men.

'Well?' Brunetti asked, looking down at the dead man.

Luciani, the senior of the two, answered. 'He was floating in the canal when we got here, Dottore. A man in that house,' he said, pointing to an ochre building on the other side of the canal, 'called us. His wife saw him.'

Brunetti turned and looked across at the house. 'Fourth floor,' Luciani explained. Brunetti cast his eyes up, just in time to see a form pull back from the window. As he stared at the building and at those beside it, he noticed a number of dark shadows at the windows. Some retreated when he looked at them, others did not.

Brunetti turned back to Luciani and nodded to him to continue. 'He was near the steps, but we had to go in and pull him out. I put him on his back. To try to revive him. But there was no hope, sir. It looks like he's been dead a long time.' He sounded apologetic, almost as if his failure to breathe life back into the young man had somehow added to the finality of his death.

'Did you check the body?' Brunetti asked.

'No, sir. When we saw that there was nothing we could do, we thought it would be best to leave him for the doctor.'

'Good, good,' Brunetti muttered. Luciani shivered, either with cold or the awareness of his failure, and small drops of water fell to the pavement below him.

'You two get yourselves off home. Have a bath, get something to eat. And drink something against the chill.' Both men smiled at this, grateful for the suggestion. 'And take the launch. Bonsuan will take you home, both of you.'

The men thanked him and pushed their way through the crowd, which had grown larger in the few minutes Brunetti had been there. He gestured to one of the uniformed men who had come with him on the launch and told him, 'Move these people back, then get their names and addresses, all of them. Ask them when they got here, if they heard or saw anything strange this morning. Then send them home.' He hated the ghouls who always gathered at the scenes of death and could never understand the fascination so many of them had with it, especially in its more violent manifestations.

He looked again at the face of the young man on the pavement, now the object of so many pitiless stares. He was a handsome man, with short blond hair made darker by the water that still puddled around him. His eyes were a clear, limpid blue, his face symmetrical, nose narrow and fine.

Behind him, Brunetti heard the voices of the police as they began to move the crowd back. He called Puccetti over to him, ignoring the new salute the young man gave him. 'Puccetti, go over to that row of houses on the other side of the canal and see if anyone heard or saw anything.'

'For what time, sir?'

Brunetti thought for a moment, considering the moon. It had been new two nights ago: the tides would not have been strong enough to carry the body very far at all. He would have to ask Bonsuan about last night's tides. The hands of the dead man were strangely shrivelled and white, a sure sign he had been in the water for a long time. Once he knew how long the young man had been dead, he'd leave it to Bonsuan to calculate how far he could have drifted. And from where. In the meantime, there was Puccetti. 'Ask them for any time last night. And get some barriers set up. Send those people home if you can.' Little chance of that, he knew. Venice had few events like this to offer its citizens; they would leave only reluctantly.

He heard the sound of another boat approaching. A second white police launch, blue light pulsing round, pulled into the canal and stopped at the same mooring Bonsuan had used. This one also carried three men in uniform and one in civilian clothing. Like sunflowers, the faces of the crowd turned from the sun of their attention, the dead man, and swirled around towards the men who jumped down from the boat and approached the crowd.

At their head walked Doctor Ettore Rizzardi, the Coroner for the city. Unperturbed by the stares he was receiving, Doctor Rizzardi approached and extended his hand in a friendly fashion to Brunetti. 'Buon di, Guido. What is it?'

Brunetti stepped aside so that Rizzardi could see what lay at their feet. 'He was in the canal. Luciani and Rossi pulled him out, but there was nothing they could do. Luciani tried, but it was too late.'

Rizzardi nodded and grunted at this. The shrivelled skin of the hands told him how late it had been for any help.

'It looks like he's been in there for a long time, Ettore. But I'm sure you can tell me better.'

Taking this compliment as no more than his due, Rizzardi turned his full attention to the corpse.

Continues...


Excerpted from Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon Copyright © 1993 by Donna Leon . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 27 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(9)

4 Star

(10)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 5, 2012

    recommended

    As a fan of Donna Leon, I have read most of her books. 'Death in a Strange Country' tackled a vital subject, international toxic disposal, and ended with a depressing but perhaps inevitable conclusion. It also exposed the weaknesses of previously admirable standard Leon characters. Not one of the happier Leon reads.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    Very enjoyable

    This series has a main character I really like.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 18, 2012

    Italian mystery

    Mystery in Venice, soaking up the atmosphere of the city as well as depths of the characters.
    A good read- holds your interest up to the end.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 13, 2012

    I am now hooked on this series and have started from book 1 - th

    I am now hooked on this series and have started from book 1 - the main characters are likeable and interesting. Haven't visited Venice but this series makes me want to visit - but not during tourist season.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 20, 2012

    Recommended

    Twists and turns to satisfy any mystery lover.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 12, 2012

    I doubt there will be a #3 in the series

    terrible, boring, extremely weak ending

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 26, 2012

    ****

    This was a facinating story of the politacal world we live in. The characters are so belivable.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 29, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    ITALY YOU DON'T SEE IN THE TOURIST GUIDEBOOKS

    I've read the first five Commissario Guido Brunetti novels and each novel shows a different aspect of Venice, Guido Brunetti and Italy. Enjoyable stuff.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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