Along the canals of Venice, Bognor investigates a mogul’s medieval murder
Flush with cash from the success of his latest insipid blockbuster, aspiring film mogul Irving Silverburger takes to Venice to soak himself in luxury. Instead, he is quickly soaked in blood. Cruising down the canal in a vaporetto, Silverburger is shot with a crossbow, killed by a Harlequin who disappears into the masquerade of Carnival.
Unmasking the disguised assassin falls to Simon Bognor, a British Board of Trade detective whose natural sloth did not prevent him from stumbling backward into knighthood—an honor that fits just as poorly as his ill-tailored clothes. If he ever had a prime, he is long past it now, but Bognor must rally once more to penetrate the mysteries of an ancient city at festival time, when the killers are not the only ones in disguise.
About the Author
Tim Heald (b. 1944) is a journalist and author of mysteries. Born in Dorchester, England, he studied modern history at Oxford before becoming a reporter and columnist for the Sunday Times. He began writing novels in the early 1970s, starting with Unbecoming Habits (1973), which introduced Simon Bognor, a defiantly lazy investigator for the British Board of Trade. Heald followed Bognor through nine more novels, including Murder at Moose Jaw (1981) and Business Unusual (1989) before taking a two-decade break from the series, which returned in 2011 with Death in the Opening Chapter.
Heald has further distinguished himself with official biographies of Prince Philip and Princess Margaret, as well as accounts of sporting heroes like cricket legends Denis Compton and Brian Johnston. He is also an experienced public speaker. Yet Another Death in Venice (2014) is the latest in the Bognor chronicles.
Read an Excerpt
Yet Another Death in Venice
A Simon Bognor Mystery
By Tim Heald
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Tim Heald
All rights reserved.
A thin sleet-laden wind blew in from the Dolomites and drove the orchestras outside the Quadri and the Florian out of the piazza and into the warmth of their respective establishments. All around the great square, tiny white horses frothed above the little waves that beat against the duckboards. All along the Riva degli Schiavoni in front of the Doge's Palace and the facades of the grand hotels—the Danieli, the Savoia e Jolanda, the Londra Palace, the Metropole, and all the other hostelries where John Ruskin and Henry James and others less literate but just as famous might have stayed from time to time— the gray-white gale banged the gondolas and the vaporetti against the stone of the wide esplanade.
None of this wintry weather, however, diminished the enthusiasm of the crowds that thronged the walkways or splashed in vividly colored boots through the sometimes knee-high water. It was Carnival time in Venice, and the crowds who gathered every year at the end of January and the beginning of February were as festive and foreign as ever. Carnival had ancient Venetian antecedents, but they were essentially bogus and dated from long before living memory. Irving G. Silverburger had been in Venice for a week capitalizing on the success of his movie The Coffee Grinders and trying to drum up support for a sequel along the lines of The Nut Crackers, The Lemon Peelers, The Meat Mincers, or something similar. Irving G. Silverburger was not into art, but he was into money. And in some parts of the world, The Coffee Grinders was big box office. Celluloid garbage was by way of being Silverburger's stock in trade. Not, of course, that Silverburger was his real name. His family came from one of the Baltic states, and uncles and aunts had perished in con centration camps. These facts he rolled out when it suited him, which was not always.
He was staying at the Danieli. One did. In a penthouse suite. Likewise. And he paid his bill on his new pink credit card, the one that entitled him to "free" champagne more or less anywhere he went. The desk at the Danieli seemed not to have seen a pink card before and did not respond as he would have wished even when he explained that "pink was the new black." Nevertheless, he paid on the card, and they eventually accepted it. One did that, too, but not everyone seemed to realize.
Outside, he shivered in the winter air and brushed imaginary stuff off the lapels of his vicuna coat. It was yesterday's coat, but vicuna had a timeless sense of money about it, and he liked to give off that kind of scent. He sniffed the salty aroma of the Dolomites and the Adriatic and wondered if it could be bottled.
The city was becoming more and more like a film set. Silverburger liked that. The nearest he could think of was Vegas, but the trouble with Vegas was that it wasn't, you know, real. It was a fabrication—artificial. The great thing about Venice was that it was the real thing, like those ruins in Mexico and Guatemala. Only Venice had electricity and Wi-Fi, and you could get a dry martini and a burger, even if it was only in Harry's Bar and only if you specially ordered it, but what the hell. And no cars was good, too. Cars got in the way. They were always there when you didn't need them, whereas even a rusty old vaporetto gave you atmosphere, and atmosphere was what movies were about. Besides which, no one ever got run down by a vaporetto.
The city created its own special effects, and fewer and fewer people actually lived there. That was good, too. Citizens created nuisance. That was why New York and Paris and London were so difficult. People lived there. People got in the way.
He sighed and looked around. He bet none of these revelers came from Venice. The few Venetians left would be indoors minding their cats. Because nearly all the Carnival spirits were in masks, it was difficult to be sure of anything. Most of the masks had long noses and came, he guessed, from Taiwan or Guangzhou, the former Canton. These were the new homes of cheap junk just as Manchester and even parts of his home country had once been. Sure as hell, the masks wouldn't have been made in Venice any more than the wearers. Everything was from out of town.
He sighed and patted his breast pocket, the one where he had stored the pink plastic. The knowledge that the card was there reassured him. It confirmed his place in the world and gave him status. This was important in contemporary Venice. It earned him his table of choice at Locanda Cipriani and Corte Sconta and Al Covo and the Met. He scored points as he sauntered nonchalantly across the piazza or paid a quick genuflectory visit to the Frari to pay homage to the Titian altarpiece or to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco to make a speedy obeisance before the Tintoretto crucifixion on the first floor. Just because Silverburger made his fortune from junk didn't mean that he dealt in junk when left to his own devices. Somewhere in the distance, an orchestra was playing Vivaldi. Someone was always playing Vivaldi in Venice. The composer had become a sort of permanent sound bite to be performed to a visual counterpoint provided by Guardi or Canaletto. Venice was a city of clichés, instantly recognizable to anyone who ever went to the cinema and saw an advertisement for ice cream.
He guessed there were packages for Carnival. Nowadays, Venice came almost only in sanitized, gift-wrapped form, prepackaged so that you could march through the city in a bedraggled crocodile behind a drooping flag carried at half-mast by a tour leader almost as ignorant as those they were allegedly guiding. Venice was an experience you purchased on the Internet and saw through the prism of a digital camera. Silverburger had seen boatloads of a new phenomenon—mainland Chinese, coated apparently in nothing but plastic, being harangued in shrill Mandarin as they bucketed down the Giudecca Canal. It was not a pretty sound bite, but it was the noise of the future. Better stay at home and experience Venice vicariously on the screen. There wasn't a whole lot of difference between the big wrap-around screen of the downtown cinema in Middle America and the small screen of a handheld camera. The former, however, swelled the Silverburger coffers and improved the viability of the pink card in his suit pocket. Irving was a rich man and was becoming better off by the nanosecond.
His water taxi was late. He had ordered his own boat not wishing to risk sharing with someone else, which was always a hazard with the hotel vessel even though the desk had assured him that no one else was making the voyage out to Marco Polo. He preferred his own taxi. You could order the boatman about, whereas the Danieli fellow served another master. Or thought he did.
Silverburger gazed at the throng wondering idly how many were mainland Chinese and how many were likely to be the bums on seats watching The Coffee Grinders and films of that ilk in downtown Peoria. He shrugged and shivered despite the vicuna coat and a silk vest next the skin. Came to the same thing. There were plenty of bums in mainland China and a similar appetite for bad movies. There was a fortune to be made out of the lowest common denominator, and Silverburger was making it.
His taxi slid and bumped along, skippered by a helmsman in a white peaked cap wearing a truculent grin and wraparound shades. Silverburger smiled an unspoken reply and watched the bellhop load his designer luggage onto the boat. He tipped him in paper Euros and stepped on board. The boat rocked slightly and thumped against the side as he made his way back and sat in the stern, arms akimbo, trying to disguise the shivering reaction to the cold and to look like the self-assured American film mogul that he surely was.
The taxi driver gunned the engine, and he and the passenger waved a nonchalant farewell to the grand hotel as they slipped down the tributary and into the approaches to the Grand Canal. Silverburger had seldom seen such crowds so assiduously disguised. There was not a recognizable human face among them, and all wore costumes. It was like Halloween back home, only a sight more conscientious.
He did not observe the Harlequin figure straddling the balustrade on the bridge and smoking a cigarette through a holder as it toyed with a wonderfully realistic crossbow in its arms. Had he done so, he would have paid the Harlequin little or no attention, for it was just one of many thousands of similarly disguised figures mostly vaporettoed in from the bus and train stations by the new bridge that traversed the canal up at the Piazzale Roma that connected with the concrete jungle of Mestre and the real world beyond.
Here, all was make-believe. The cavorting revelers, the Pinocchio-style noses, the frantic and often down-turned mouths, the crinolines, the breeches, the wigs, the hats. All would be translated in a day or two into sensible suiting and polished shoes. These few days of fantasy would be restored to the daily slog and the hourly grind. Silverburger, on the other hand, was all fiction and no fact. This sort of fabrication, tatty and tawdry though it might be, was what he did day in and day out. Even this routine water taxi trip out to the airport and the executive lounge before the fast-track progress into first class was part of the unreal world he inhabited. His life was as artificial as the means by which it was supported.
Death, too. There was to be nothing routine or ordinary in the departure of Irving G. Silverburger dispatched by the effective bolt of the crossbow wielded by the anonymous Harlequin on the bridge. One minute, the slim androgynous mildly eighteenth-century figure bent sinuously almost as if playing a character from a Goldoni play, egged on by music from Vivaldi played by the competing orchestras of the Quadri and the Florian on opposite sides of the busy piazza; the next, the bolt had fled toward the departing launch and embedded itself in the coat-clad back of the film producer from Middle America.
Undeterred, the gleaming mahogany launch chugged up the Grand Canal. She passed the Picassos and other modern treasures at Peggy Guggenheim's place; the Tintorettos in the Accademia. She moved under the clogged bric-a-brac of the Rialto Bridge, a commission that Palladio had so signally failed to win, and ignored the empty windswept stalls of the fish and vegetable markets on the left before taking in the crumbling facade of the majestic Ca' d'Oro with its one beardy Van Dyck and its obligatory Carpaccio of Saint George once more dispatching the dragon. All was real and yet not real.
On the open lagoon, the driver opened up, gunning his engine to new strengths and leaving behind a wake that overwhelmed the white flecks from the short wavelets fanned by the wind from the distant mountains.
Thus they sped across the waters. An incoming cut-price flight passed them overhead, passengers buckled up and prepared to bulk the existing crowds of tourists with instant disguises and sudden anonymity. In the stern of the craft, Silverburger sat motionless in his overcoat, arms akimbo still as he stared out unseeing on the world outside the water taxi. At their destination, the driver casually bumped his craft into the jetty, did arcane yet unthinking things with ropes, and only then turned to assist his passenger from the boat.
Silverburger was sitting as he had sat since setting off from the Danieli a half hour before. Indeed, he seemed not to have moved at all despite the motion of the vessel and the cold of the clime.
The captain called out in a rough Venetian dialect, which Silverburger would not have understood even though he might have recognized the message, which was simply that the journey was at an end and the money due. The client didn't move, and Giuseppe swore roughly, checked that the ropes were holding steady, and made his way toward the back. Once in the stern section of the boat, he spoke again to his passenger and, on receiving no answer, grasped Silverburger by his Manhattan-tailored shoulder and was surprised when the man fell forward, limp and unprotesting. In the small of his back there was a neat hole from which there protruded the end of a metal bolt. All around the point of entry, there was a widening smudge of fresh blood. This represented the final ebb of what had once been the life force, in a manner of speaking, of the blood's owner, or perhaps more accurately, of its leaseholder, Mr. Irving G. Silverburger.
Giuseppe swore again. Not because he was distressed by what he saw, but because corpses did not tend to carry cash. Not that it mattered. In any case, Mr. Silverburger dealt in plastic, and most recently in the pink plastic, which so few people in Italy seemed to recognize.
He was, of course, extremely dead.CHAPTER 2
Michael Dibdini was not actually head of police in Venice, but he probably knew more of the city and the crimes therein than any man alive. He was not a Venetian himself and came, like so many who dwelled in the city and had made their lives there, from somewhere else. It was said that his mother was English, his father Greek, and that his name was neither Michael nor Dibdini, but this seemed not to matter. He was a doge among men, a God among the gondolieri, and when it came to crime in La Serenissima, he was the ultimate authority. He also understood fegato, polenta, very small fish, and prosecco served in thin, chilled flutes with bubbles that rose from bottom to top only to disappear as mysteriously and totally as they had begun their brief voyage. They vanished as they had started: silently, unobtrusively, inevitably, and without trace. Just, Dibdini sometimes reflected, like a decomposed body surfacing in the secretive waters that surrounded the walls of his adopted city.
Dibdini was a friend of Sir Simon Bognor.
Their paths had first crossed when Her Majesty the Queen had come on a visit and Bognor had arrived as a typically British visitor on what he described in his inimitably clipped old-fashioned accent as a "recky." A man from the palace wearing a suit and by secretaries who wore twin sweater sets and sardonic smiles that suggested mischief had accompanied him. However, this was kept, sadly, under wraps. The man from the palace wore his suit as if born to it. It fit. Bognor's didn't. He appeared oddly uncomfortable in it, and it did not seem, as it did with so many Englishmen of his background, like a second skin. It seemed not to belong to him but to have been acquired from some sort of secondhand shop worn originally by some other person altogether. Dibdini, who was trained to notice such things, noticed. Even had he not been trained, he would still have noticed. Dibdini was that sort of man; Bognor's sartorial uncomfortableness spoke of an inner misfit, which Dibdini recognized at once.
The two men were oddly similar and from this shared round-peggedness masquerading in such square holes came a natural affinity and eventually a wary friendship.
And now Bognor was "Sir Simon," and he was in Venice for a day or so with Lady Bognor and he was proposing lunch, for old time's sake, at La Locanda Montin in what passed for the garden. They would eat a fritto misto, drink a carafe of the house white, and the years would slip easily away. They always had a meal at Montin, which was fashionable in a faded way and had entertained the likes of Henry Kissinger in their pomp, which might have been off-putting except that no one cared. This was one of the reasons that both Bognor and Dibdini liked Montin. It was, sort of, on a rich well-heeled tourist track, but it seemed not to care less and just gave a shrug, maybe said pouf! and carried on playing backgammon. Silverburger did not eat there. He preferred Cipriani and Harry's Dolci.
Both men were nearing retirement, which would come as a relief to alleged friends and foes alike. It was typical that Bognor worked in a department that most people would have thought could not possibly have anything to do with crime, while Dibdini operated from the one city in an endemically criminal society that had practically no crime at all and boasted a constant decline—a sort of criminal negative equity. These stratagems provided useful cover for these two least likely sleuths. Few people expected serious forensic detection from either Venice or the British Board of Trade. Such fools.
In another part of the city, tucked into a small palazzo on the other side of the Accademia Bridge between that forbidding gallery and the modern extravagances of Peggy Guggenheim's place, though a few meters nearer the Giudecca Canal, was a small exquisitely presented apartment out of whose full-length windows Sir Simon Bognor was staring absently as he thought of Guido Brunetti and Aurelio Zen and all the other overqualified mavericks who were connected with his favorite Italian city. The palazzo had been left to one of Bognor's friends and contemporaries from Apocrypha College, Oxford.
Excerpted from Yet Another Death in Venice by Tim Heald. Copyright © 2014 Tim Heald. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Donna Leon it isn't. I just never got involved with the story.
very slow read. Felt like a manual on " how to indentify the killer".