A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon

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A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: This is the tenth novel in Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti series set in Venice. It's a well-plotted story with good characterisation but not the best book to read first in the series. There are some sexual references and some violence but nothing that most people would find offensive.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: March 2002
Publisher: Arrow
ISBN: 009941516X

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Donna Leon was an accidental discovery. I'm a big fan of Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen books and I read a review in which Zen, who seems to operate on both sides of the law, was contrasted with Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti, another Italian policeman, who is his opposite in just about every way.

"A Sea of Troubles" is her tenth Brunetti novel. I read this first simply because it was the only one on the library shelves. "Very popular", said the librarian when I enquired. The books can be read as stand-alone novels (I just did!) but I suspect I would have had a better understanding of some of the nuances of Brunetti's character if I'd read at least some of the earlier books. I might also have found Signorina Elettra a little more endearing.

In the harbour on the island of Pellestrina in the Venetian Lagoon a boat catches fire, explodes and sinks. The owner and his eighteen-year-old son are missing and it's only when a diver examines the boat that their bodies are found in the wreck. Brunetti senses that the owner of the boat, Giulio Bottin, was not well-liked, but it's a very close-knit community and outsiders are not welcomed and certainly not confided in. Brunetti's boss's secretary, Elettra, visits her relatives on the island to see what she can find out.

It's a good story, well-told. This is despite the fact that I'm always disinclined towards police-procedural stories (where the novel is essentially about the methods the police use in the course of an investigation) when a civilian steps in to do investigative work. I would imagine that it rarely happens in real life, but it occurs all too frequently in crime novels. The plot builds to a dramatic and very satisfying climax. I guessed the name of the murderer some thirty or so pages before the denouement but it was really on the basis of that person seeming the least likely to be guilty.

Signorina Elettra is a superficial character. Her circumstances too conveniently fit the requirements of the story. She's in a position to take the time off work to visit her relatives, who are naturally delighted to have her for an indefinite stay. She just happens to have a good and plausible cover story. Guido Brunetti comes across as a likeable man torn between his duty and his concerns for Elettra's safety. His feelings for her are not entirely clear. We're supposed to believe that they are more than those of a colleague, but I had no sense of any electricity between them and this seemed to be an unnecessary complication. He's a fallible man and makes mistakes - some potentially fatal.

Brunetti's family, on the other hand, appeared more real than Elettra, despite the fact that they play a very much smaller part in the book. They seemed to be more anchored in reality, to act more naturally. His children are self-involved and his wife wary of whatever feelings Brunetti might have for Elettra.

What was particularly skilfully done was the picture of Venice, but Leon has lived in the city for many years. It's a quarter of a century since I was last there, but the book brought back some memories and not just of the good things about the city. There was a good contrast too between the city of Venice and the outlying island of Pellestrina, which might almost be in another country. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of a map at the beginning of the story. It's fairly basic but did help in getting the rather complicated geography of the lagoon in my mind.

Talking to other readers of the series I think it was a mistake to make "A Sea of Troubles" my introduction to Brunetti, as it's far from typical, indeed something of a departure for Leon. Given the choice I think I would rather read Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen series as they're grittier and more to my taste, but I'm determined to read more of the Commissario Brunetti books. If you're a fan of Agatha Christie then I think these books could well appeal to you despite being set in a different place and time. The book's recommended and given four stars.

Buy A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon at Amazon.co.uk

Buy A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon at Amazon.com.

Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti Novels in Chronological Order


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